Hutto v. Davis (1982)

US Criminal Law

Hutto v Davis
Image: ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Barbara St. Jean

Disproportionate sentencing for non-violent offences, while not surprising in a multi-jurisdictional continent, becomes central to the hierarchical fragility of a country built upon fairness and constitutional rights, when a convicted felon receives life imprisonment for drug related offences valued at less than $200 at the time of arrest.

In 1973, Virginia state police raided and recovered nine ounces of marijuana from the home of the defendant, prior to his conviction for possession with intent to distribute. When awarding judgment, the court passed a sentence of forty years imprisonment with a fine of $10,000, after which the defendant successfully appealed under habeas corpus, while contending that such an exorbitant term was in contravention to art.VIII of the US Constitution which reads:

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

And s.1 of art.XIV which reads:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Unfortunately, a US court of appeals panel reversed the decision on grounds that at no point in history had the Court been found liable for cruel and unusual punishment when sentencing under the guidance of state legislation, however when reheard in full judicial capacity, the court amended its earlier judgment back in favour of the appellant.

Through the application of Rummel v. Estelle, in which a Texan defendant had been unfairly sentenced to life imprisonment for fraudulent misrepresentation to the value of just under $121, the US Supreme Court ruled that despite the extremity of the sentences, there was nothing unconstitutional about the application of maximum penalty through approved legislative framework, and that on this occasion, when the lower courts had relied upon the four principles used in Hart v. Coiner:

  1. No element of violence and minimal, debatable danger to the person
  2. Examination of the purposes behind criminal statute and alternative mitigating remedies
  3. Evidence of excessive penalty beyond maximum recommendations
  4. Evidence of disproportionate sentencing through comparative state analysis

To allow the appeal, they had collectively failed to recognise that federal courts should be slow to review legislative sentencing mandates, and that tradition clearly showed how such instances were both rare and intrusive to the doctrine that amendments to statute were privy to Congress and not the courts. It was thus for these reasons that the US Supreme Court reversed the findings of the court of appeals, with explicit instruction to dismiss the habeas corpus, despite a majority dissent from within.

Adam v. Saenger (1938)

US Civil Procedure

Adams v Saenger
Image: ‘Texas Longhorn Skull’ by Marlon Rose

When parties to an existing litigation require an immediate defence response, the essence of the Constitution reminds those involved, that regardless of how such matters are realised, the purpose of natural law is to permit resolution in every State.

On this occasion, a Texas-based exporter and importer commenced action against a former California-based client for the recovery of monies concerning goods purchased and delivered prior to their dissolution. In response, the appellant issued a cross-complaint to recover monies for the conversion of chattels, after which the superior court of California dismissed the respondents claims, along with their contention that the cross-complaint had not been lawfully served, thus prompting an appeal to the Texas Court of Civil Appeals. Here, it was held that at the time the complaint was served, the California court lacked jurisdiction to uphold such a claim over an out-of-state entity, therefore due process was unsustainable and null by effect.

Pursued in the U.S. Supreme Court, the decision of the Texas Appeals Court was reviewed, giving particular regard to § 1 of art. IV of the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”

And while the complaint served was ancillary to the original action, the Texas Court of Appeals based its judgment on the principle that any matter of fact or law determinable by jurisdiction unrelated to the cause of litigation is subject to adjudication, as was held in Thompson v. Whitman, and that the complaint was deemed independent of the original matter, and therefore subject to such a review.

However, in Hanley v. Donoghue it had been equally held by the U.S. Supreme Court that:

“Whatever was matter of law in the court appealed from is matter of law here, and whatever was matter of fact in the court appealed from is matter of fact here.”

More importantly, § 442 of the California Code of Civil Procedure provides that:

“Whenever the defendant seeks affirmative relief against any party, relating to or depending upon the contract, transaction, matter, happening or accident upon which the action is brought, or affecting the property to which the action relates, he may, in addition to his answer, file at the same time, or by permission of the court subsequently, a cross-complaint.”

While § 1015 (as amended by St.Cal.1933) also notes:

“When a plaintiff or a defendant, who has appeared, resides out of the State, and has no attorney in the action or proceeding, the service may be made on the clerk or on the justice where there is no clerk, for him. But in all cases where a party has an attorney in the action or proceeding, the service of papers, when required, must be upon the attorney instead of the party…”

Therefore when the appellant issued his complaint to the attending attorney, both aspects of Californian law were satisfied enough to uphold the powers of art. IV of the Constitution, and that such diligence by the appellant lawyer was now grounds enough for the Court to reverse the Texas Appeal Court’s decision with a view to the resolution of the proceedings in question while holding that:

“There is nothing in the Fourteenth Amendment to prevent a State from adopting a procedure by which a judgment in personam may be rendered in a cross-action against a plaintiff in its courts, upon service of process or of appropriate pleading upon his attorney of record.”