MAYES v. PEOPLE

Death resulting from a reckless act is on most occasions deemed manslaughter, however with overwhelming evidence of wilful intent, the court cannot simply accept anything less than a charge of murder, as was explained in this case between the convicting State and the subjective argument of a clearly mentally distressed man.

The nature of this 1883 matter rests upon the testimony of both a grandmother and the defendant in error’s young daughter, who at the time of the offence, witnessed their father return home from a nearby saloon in a drunken state, while obviously angry for reasons left unknown to the court.

Having entered the family home around 9pm, the defendant in error proceeded to request arsenic while explaining that either himself or the deceased needed to die; upon which, the deceased made a number of strategic attempts to placate his temper and settle his mind.

After his refusing to eat food or engage with those around him, the defendant in error later sat alone and continued to make demands upon his wife and daughter, until for no sound reason, he threw a tin of food at his daughter, who ran for safety as the deceased quickly followed with a gas lamp in hand.

At this point, the defendant in error forcefully threw a heavy beer glass at his wife, and upon which, the glass struck the lamp and caused the ignited oil to spill all over her clothing.

Seemingly unwilling to assist the deceased, the defendant in error watched as she was engulfed in flames and suffered five major burns to her head, neck, legs and body; all of which, led to her death some five days later.

Indicted in the Circuit Court of Jersey County, the jury convicted the defendant in error of murder, whereupon he appealed the decision under writ of error in the Illinois Supreme Court.

Here, the court first referred to § 140 of the Illinois Revised Statutes, which read that:

“Malice shall be implied when no considerable provocation appears, or when all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.” 

And then to Francis Wharton’s ‘A Treatise on the Law of Homicide in the United States’, in which p. 45 read that:  

“When an action, unlawful in itself, is done with deliberation, and with intention of mischief or great bodily harm to particulars, or of mischief indiscriminately, fall where it may, and death ensue, against or beside the original intention of the party, it will be murder.”

While the defendant in error continued to explain that he was simply attempting to dispose of the glass through an open rear door; a statement which was reasoned away by the two witnesses, who confirmed that the door was in fact closed at all times that evening. 

Hence, with no reason to accept the alcohol-hazed recollection of a man claiming to have felt no ill-will toward the deceased, the court instead noted that had there been no aggression behind the act, the verdict would have likely been in doubt.

However, it was patently clear that harm was intended when assessing the impact of the glass upon the lamp; and so, with little hesitation the court upheld the previous judgment while reminding those present that:

“Malice is an indispensable element to the crime of murder.” 

SHEVLIN-CARPENTER CO. v. STATE OF MINN.

The constitutionality of statute drafted and designed to preserve the interests of a State, coupled with the presumption that such laws are irrelevant to the needs of commerce, provide the basis of a case, where those later prosecuted, are left arguing that word of mouth is sufficient grounds upon which to acquire property.

Having operated as a timber merchant under State licence, the plaintiff in error corporation found themselves in need of a second licence extension, following the recent expiration of their previous reissue.

And so, instead of applying through the proper channels, chose to rely upon verbal declarations of State officials as to their ability to continue removing trees from government land.

For clarity, at the time of the offence § 7 of the Laws of Minnesota 1895 stated that:

“If any person, firm or corporation, without a valid and existing permit therefor, cuts or employs, or induces any other person, firm or corporation to cut, or assist in cutting any timber of whatsoever description, on state lands, or removes or carries away or employs, or induces or assists any other person, firm or corporation to remove or carry away any such timber, or other property, he shall be liable to the state in treble damages, if such trespass is adjudged to have been willful; but double damages only in case the trespass is adjudged to have been casual and involuntary….”

And so, when the plaintiff in error’s activities were discovered, the defendant in error brought charges in the District Court of St. Louis County on grounds of wilful trespass, thus claiming treble damages as prescribed.

Here, the court found for the defendant in error and awarded damages of around $44,000, whereupon the plaintiff in error challenged the judgment in the Minnesota Supreme Court, who upheld the judgment, while holding that:

“The Legislature may declare that a willful trespass upon the lands of another shall constitute a criminal offense and fix the limits of punishment therefor, either by fine or imprisonment, or by compensating the injured party in damages to be recovered in a civil action, or by both, as its judgment may dictate.”

After which, the plaintiff in error appealed on grounds that it had acted in good faith and reliance upon the statements made by those with apparent authority, while in response the court referred to State v. Shevlin-Carpenter Co., in which it had earlier held that:

“Where the defendant is a willful trespasser, the measure of damages is the full value of the property at the time and place of demand; but, if he is only an unintentional or mistaken trespasser,-that is, where he honestly and reasonably believed that he had a legal right to take the property,-then the measure of damages is the value of the property at the time and place and in the condition it was taken.”

State v. Shevlin-Carpenter

Before partially reversing their previous judgment and remanding the matter back in keeping with a significant reduction in damages, thus the plaintiff in error challenged the decision under writ of error in the U.S. Supreme Court, on grounds that the statue was violative of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when denying due process, and that as such, no damages were due.

Having reexamined the facts and constitutional argument, along with the right to protect State property through appropriate statute, the Court reasoned that at no point was the questioned legislation hidden from view, nor remotely difficult to understand, while also noting that at no point in history had trespass ever been considered a harmless act.

In closing, the Court also noted that despite the harshness of its construction, the State had proscribed the offence within constitutional bounds, and were therefore sound in their enforcement; after which, it upheld the previous judgment in full, while holding that:

“[I]nnocence cannot be asserted of an action which violates existing law, and ignorance of the law will not excuse.”

STATE v. RHODES

Drawing the line between judicial governance of the family unit, or in the very least of cases, domestic relationships, was a task discussed in a case dating back to 1868, in which a spouse was prone to seek reparation in the criminal courts when her husband struck her in a manner designed to enforce compliance at a time when women and children’s rights were quite literally unheard of.

Having suffered three blows of the defendant’s switch, which by law could be no wider than a man’s thumb, (hence the phrase ‘rule of thumb’), the defendant was indicted for assault and battery before the North Carolina Supreme Court, on grounds that his actions were unprovoked and therefore unlawful; and upon which, the court was tasked with an examination of leading case precedent in order to ‘draw the line’ as to when they were entitled to probe further into such apparently trifle matters.

In the first instance, the court turned to State v. Hussey, in which the court had recently held that:

“[A] wife may be a witness against her husband for felonies perpetrated, or attempted to be perpetrated on her, and we would say for an assault and battery which inflicted or threatened a lasting injury or great bodily harm; but in all cases of a minor grade she is not.”

State v. Hussey

Before reviewing State v. Black, in which the court had more recently held that:

“A husband is responsible for the acts of his wife, and he is required to govern his household, and for that purpose the law permits him to use towards his wife such a degree of force as is necessary to control an unruly temper and make her behave herself; and unless some permanent injury be inflicted, or there be an excess of violence, or such a degree of cruelty as shows that it is inflicted to gratify his own bad passions, the law will not invade the domestic forum or go behind the curtain.”

State v. Black

While also choosing to venture further into the use of physical discipline not only upon wives, but children, both at home and in the school system, where the court gave weight to State v. Pendergrass, in which the court earlier held that:

“[T]eachers exceed the limits of their authority when they cause lasting mischief; but act within the limits of it, when they inflict temporary pain.”

State v. Pendergrass

And so, with a brief review of existing legal opinion, much of which was in a state of conflict when it came to both the use of ‘correctional’ force, and the means with which it could be dispensed, the court insisted that without further evidence of argument to the contrary, they were reluctant, if not powerless, to delve beyond the facade of marital or educational affairs, unless there was compelling evidence that the injuries complained of were to prove lasting and detrimental to either party’s health; hence the case was dismissed in full, while the court rightly or wrongly, held that:

“Every household has and must have, a government of its own, modelled to suit the temper, disposition and condition of its inmates.”

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