2 So. 854 (Ala. 1887), Parsons v. State

Citation2 So. 854, 81 Ala. 577
Opinion JudgeSOMERVILLE, J.
Party NamePARSONS v. STATE.
AttorneySmith & Lowe and Wm. Bethea, for appellants. T. N. McClellan, Atty. Gen., contra.
Judge PanelSTONE, C.J., ( dissenting.)
Case DateJuly 28, 1887
CourtSupreme Court of Alabama

Page 854

2 So. 854 (Ala. 1887)

81 Ala. 577

PARSONS

v.

STATE.

Supreme Court of Alabama

July 28, 1887

Appeal from city court of Birmingham; SHARPE, Judge.

The indictment in this case charged that the defendants Nancy J. Parsons and Joe Parsons, unlawfully and with malice aforethought, killed Bennett Parsons, by shooting him with a gun. When the said cause was called for trial, the defendants objected to being put upon trial, on the ground that a list of jurors summoned for their trial had not been delivered to them. In support of the motion it was shown that defendants, since the indictment was found, had been confined in jail; that the list of names, delivered to them, setting forth the jurors summoned for their trial, was a list of the names of persons composing the panel of thirty-six jurors which had been regularly summoned for the week, together with the names of twenty-four special jurors drawn for this trial, as provided by section 10 of the act approved February 17, 1885, and for the summoning of whom an order had been issued, and all the persons embraced in said list of 24 had not, at the time of the service thereof on the defendants, been summoned, and no return had been made by the sheriff of said county, showing that such persons had been summoned for the trial of the defendants. It was further shown that, subsequent to serving said list on defendants, the sheriff summoned most of the persons therein, but five were not summoned at all by the sheriff, the same being returned "not found;" that an entire day did not elapse between the said return of the sheriff, and the day appointed for defendant's trial. The court overruled defendant's objection, whereupon an exception was duly reserved.

On said trial the evidence on behalf of the state tended to show that the defendants Joe Parsons and Nancy J. Parsons murdered Bennett Parsons on January 31, 1885, by shooting him with a gun. The evidence on behalf of defendants tended to show that defendant Joe Parsons was, at the time of said killing, and had always been, an idiot; and that defendant Nancy Parsons was, at the time of said killing, insane; that the act of Nancy, assisting in the killing of deceased, was the result of an insane delusion that deceased possessed supernatural power to inflict her with disease, and power by means of a supernatural trick to take her life; that deceased by means of such supernatural power had caused said Nancy to be sick and in bad health for a long time, and that her act, at the time of said killing, in assisting therein, was under the insane delusion that she was in great danger of the loss of her life from deceased, to be effected by a supernatural trick. The defendant Nancy was the wife of deceased, and defendant Joe was his daughter. The evidence also tended to show insanity for two generations in the families of said defendants. The defendant Joe offered to prove, by Mrs. James Nail, that "she had known Joe Parsons from her infancy, that she has been idiotic all her life, and she is idiotic now; and that she has seen her frequently during her acquaintance with her, and has often conversed with her." The state objected to the introduction of said evidence, which objection the court sustained, and defendants excepted.

The court ex mero motu, charged, the jury that, "when insanity is relied on as a defense to crime, and such insanity consists of a delusion merely, and the defendant is not shown to be otherwise insane, then such delusion is no justification or excuse of homicide, unless the perpetrator was insanely deluded into the belief of the existence of a fact or state of facts which, if true, would justify or excuse the homicide under the law applicable to sane persons." The defendants duly excepted to the giving of this charge.

The court gave the following among other charges, at the request of the state, to which defendants duly excepted; "(2) It is only insanity of a chronic or permanent nature which, on being proved, is presumed to continue; there is no presumption that fitful and exceptional attacks of insanity are continuous." "(5) If the jury believe, from all the testimony, that the defendants at the time of the killing were in such a state of mind as to know that the act they were committing was unlawful and morally wrong, they are responsible as a sane person, if the jury believe they committed the act with which they are charged."

The defendants asked the following charges in writing, which the court refused to give, and to which rulings of the court exceptions were duly reserved: "(6) In order to constitute a crime, the accused must have memory and intelligence sufficient to know that the act she is about to commit is wrong, to remember and understand that if she commits the act she will be punished, and, besides this, reason and will to enable her to comprehend and choose between the supposed advantage at the gratification to be obtained by the criminal act and the immunity from punishment which she will secure from abstaining from it." "(8) If the jury believe from the evidence that the prisoners or either of them was moved to action by an insane impulse controlling their will or their judgment, then they are, or the one so affected is, not guilty of the crime charged." "(12) If the jury believe from the evidence that the prisoners committed the act in a manner which would be criminal and unlawful, if they were sane, the verdict should be 'not guilty,' if the killing was an offspring or product of mental disease in the prisoner."

The jury, on their retirement, found the defendants guilty of murder in the second degree, and this appeal is prosecuted from the judgment rendered on such finding.

Under the provisions of the act approved February 17, 1885, regulating the drawing and summoning of jurors (Acts 1884-85, pp. 181-187), the special venire for a capital case consists of the regular jurors for the week, and the additional jurors (not being less than 12, nor more than 24) drawn by the presiding judge in open court.

Page 856

Smith & Lowe and Wm. Bethea, for appellants.

T. N. McClellan, Atty. Gen., contra.

SOMERVILLE, J.

In this case the defendants have been convicted of the murder of Bennett Parsons, by shooting him with a gun; one of the defendants being the wife and the other the daughter of the deceased. The defense set up in the trial was the plea of insanity, the evidence tending to show that the daughter was an idiot, and the mother and wife a lunatic, subject to insane delusions, and that the killing on her part was the offspring and product of those delusions.

The rulings of the court raise some questions of no less difficulty than of interest; for, as observed by a distinguished American judge, "of all medico-legal questions, those connected with insanity are the most difficult and perplexing." Per DILLON, C.J., in State v. Felter, 25 Iowa, 67. It has become of late a matter of comment among intelligent men, including the most advanced thinkers in the medical and legal professions, that the deliverances of the law courts on this branch of our jurisprudence have not heretofore been at all satisfactory, either in the soundness of their theories, or in their practical application. The earliest English decisions, striving to establish rules and tests on the subject, including alike the legal rules of criminal and civil responsibility, and the supposed tests of the existence of the disease of insanity itself, are now admitted to have been deplorably erroneous, and, to say nothing of their vacillating character, have long since been abandoned. The views of the ablest of the old text writers and sages of the law were equally confused and uncertain in the treatment of these subjects, and they are now entirely exploded. Time was in the history of our laws that the veriest lunatic was debarred from pleading his providential affliction as a defense to his contracts. It was said, in justification of so absurd a rule, that no one could be permitted to stultify himself by pleading his own disability. So great a jurist as Lord COKE, in his attempted classification of madmen, laid down the legal rule of criminal responsibility to be that one should " wholly have lost his memory and understanding;" as to which Mr. Erskine, when defending Hadfield for shooting the king, in the year 1800, justly observed: "No such madman ever existed in the world." After this great and historical case, the existence of delusion promised for a while to become the sole test of insanity, and, acting under the duress of such delusion, was recognized in effect as the legal rule of responsibility. Lord KENYON, after ordering a verdict of acquittal in that

Page 857

case, declared with emphasis that there was "no doubt on earth" the law was correctly stated in the argument of counsel. But, as it was soon discovered that insanity often existed without delusions, as well as delusions without insanity, this view was also abandoned. Lord HALE had before declared that the rule of responsibility was measured by the mental capacity possessed by a child 14 years of age; and Mr. Justice TRACY, and other judges had ventured to decide that, to be non-punishable for alleged acts of crime, "a man must be totally deprived of his understanding and memory, so as not to know what he was doing, no more than an infant, a brute, or a wild beast. " Arnold's Case, 16 How. State Tr. 764. All these rules have necessarily been discarded in modern times in the light of the new scientific knowledge acquired by a more thorough study of the disease of insanity. In Bellingham's Case, decided in 1812, by Lord MANSFIELD at the Old Bailey, (Coll. Lun. 630), the test was held to consist in a knowledge that murder, the crime there committed, was "against the laws of God and nature," thus...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP
187 practice notes
  • 241 F.2d 640 (9th Cir. 1957), 15159, Sauer v. United States
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
    • February 6, 1957
    ...recognize this volitional incapacity in terms of 'irresistible impulse.' See for a leading case on the point, Parsons v. States, 1887, 81 Ala. 577, 2 So. 854. Such wording has been criticized by writers insofar as it connotes only, and is limited to, spontaneous sudden feeling. Such urges m......
  • 369 P.2d 997 (Alaska 1962), 100, Chase v. State
    • United States
    • Alaska Supreme Court of Alaska
    • March 27, 1962
    ...of a homicide.' Commonwealth v. McCann, 325 Mass. 510, 515, 91 N.E.2d 214, 217 (1950). The leading case on this test is Parsons v. State, 81 Ala. 577, 2 So. 854, 866 (1887). This doctrine was adopted by the District of Columbia circuit in 1929. Smith v. United States, 59 App.D.C. 144, 36 F.......
  • 100 So.2d 750 (Ala. 1958), 4 Div. 929, Nichols v. State
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court of Alabama
    • January 23, 1958
    ...been the product solely of such diseased mental condition. Lakey v. State, 258 Ala. 116, 61 So.2d 117, and cases cited; Parsons v. State, 81 Ala. 577, 2 So. 854.' The preponderance of the evidence indicated that defendant was of sound mind. Several witnesses for the defendant testified[267 ......
  • 101 So. 892 (Ala. 1924), 3 Div. 679, National Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Hannon
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court of Alabama
    • October 23, 1924
    ...Travelers' Ins. Co., 101 Cal. 338, 35 P. 856, 36 P. 813. This is stated in Anderson v. State, 209 Ala. 36, 95 So. 171; Parsons v. State, 81 Ala. 577, 2 So. 854, 60 Am. Rep. 193. Appellee cites general authorities, including Marceau v. Travelers' Ins. Co., 101 Cal. 338, 35 P. 856, 36 P. 813,......
  • Free signup to view additional results
178 cases
  • 241 F.2d 640 (9th Cir. 1957), 15159, Sauer v. United States
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
    • February 6, 1957
    ...recognize this volitional incapacity in terms of 'irresistible impulse.' See for a leading case on the point, Parsons v. States, 1887, 81 Ala. 577, 2 So. 854. Such wording has been criticized by writers insofar as it connotes only, and is limited to, spontaneous sudden feeling. Such urges m......
  • 369 P.2d 997 (Alaska 1962), 100, Chase v. State
    • United States
    • Alaska Supreme Court of Alaska
    • March 27, 1962
    ...of a homicide.' Commonwealth v. McCann, 325 Mass. 510, 515, 91 N.E.2d 214, 217 (1950). The leading case on this test is Parsons v. State, 81 Ala. 577, 2 So. 854, 866 (1887). This doctrine was adopted by the District of Columbia circuit in 1929. Smith v. United States, 59 App.D.C. 144, 36 F.......
  • 100 So.2d 750 (Ala. 1958), 4 Div. 929, Nichols v. State
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court of Alabama
    • January 23, 1958
    ...been the product solely of such diseased mental condition. Lakey v. State, 258 Ala. 116, 61 So.2d 117, and cases cited; Parsons v. State, 81 Ala. 577, 2 So. 854.' The preponderance of the evidence indicated that defendant was of sound mind. Several witnesses for the defendant testified[267 ......
  • 101 So. 892 (Ala. 1924), 3 Div. 679, National Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Hannon
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court of Alabama
    • October 23, 1924
    ...Travelers' Ins. Co., 101 Cal. 338, 35 P. 856, 36 P. 813. This is stated in Anderson v. State, 209 Ala. 36, 95 So. 171; Parsons v. State, 81 Ala. 577, 2 So. 854, 60 Am. Rep. 193. Appellee cites general authorities, including Marceau v. Travelers' Ins. Co., 101 Cal. 338, 35 P. 856, 36 P. 813,......
  • Free signup to view additional results
9 books & journal articles
  • NONCOMPLIANT INSANITY: DOES IT FIT WITHIN INSANITY?
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Vol. 41 Nbr. 2, March 2018
    • March 22, 2018
    ...may find him guilty." (emphasis added)), overruled by United States v. Brawner, 471 F.2d 969, 981 (D.C. Cir. 1972); Parsons v. State, 2 So. 854, 866 (Ala. 1887) ("If, by reason of the duress of such mental disease, he had so far lost the power to choose between the right and wrong......
  • A reassessment of common law protections for "idiots".
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 124 Nbr. 8, June - June 2015
    • June 1, 2015
    ...civil and criminal cases." Id. (267.) Duffield v. Morris's Ex'r, 2 Del. (2 Harr.) 375, 380 (1838). (268.) See, e.g., Parsons v. State, 2 So. 854, 857 (Ala. 1887) (discussing the former influence held by Hale's fourteen-year-old rule); State v. Richards, 39 Conn. 591, 594 (1873) (recomm......
  • Are Criminals Bad or Mad? Premeditated Murder, Mental Illness, and Kahler v. Kansas.
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Vol. 43 Nbr. 1, January 2020
    • January 1, 2020
    ...or defect of reason so as not to know the nature of the act or, if he did know it, that it was wrong). (176.) See, e.g., Parsons v. State, 2 So. 854, 863 (Ala. 1887); State v. Thompson, Wright 617, 622 (Ohio 1834); Regina v. Burton (1863) 176 Eng. Rep. 354, 357; 3 F. & F. 772, 780; Regi......
  • A new approach to corporate criminal liability.
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Vol. 44 Nbr. 4, September 2007
    • September 22, 2007
    ...Mental Elements of Crime, 74 GEO. L.J. 1371, 1383-85 (1986) (tracing the history of the irresistible impulse test). (25.) Parsons v. State, 2 So. 854, 866 (Ala. 1887) (emphasis in original). (26.) 214 F.2d 862, 874-76 (D.C. Cir. 1954), overruled by United States v. Brawner, 471 F.2d 969, 99......
  • Free signup to view additional results