218 U.S. 245 (1910), 231, Holt v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 231
Citation:218 U.S. 245, 31 S.Ct. 2, 54 L.Ed. 1021
Party Name:Holt v. United States
Case Date:October 31, 1910
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 245

218 U.S. 245 (1910)

31 S.Ct. 2, 54 L.Ed. 1021



United States

No. 231

United States Supreme Court

October 31, 1910

Argued October 13, 14, 1910




Where the acts constituting the assault are alleged to have been made feloniously and with malice aforethought, it is not necessary to make such allegations in the preliminary averment of assault.

Quaere, and not necessary to be decided in this case, how far, if at all, the court is warranted in inquiring into the nature of the evidence on which the grand jury acts, and how far in case of such inquiry the discretion of the trial court is subject to review.

Indictments should not be upset because some evidence, in its nature competent, but rendered incompetent by circumstances, was considered along with other evidence.

Unless the error is manifest the reviewing court should not set aside the finding of the trial court refusing to sustain a challenge of a juryman for cause on the ground of partiality or expressed opinions.

Although the more conservative course is to exclude the jury during discussions of admissibility of confessions, in the absence of statutory provision, it is within the discretion of the trial judge to allow the jury to remain, and where, as in this case, he cautions the jury that the preliminary evidence has no bearing on the question to be decided, it is not error to do so.

In this case, the ruling of the trial court that the district attorney was not guilty of misconduct in making statements in his opening as to voluntary confessions of the accused sustained.

In considering a motion for new trial in a capital case on the ground that the jury was allowed to separate during the trial and that, during the separation, they saw newspaper articles bearing on the case, the court may, if it is going to deny the motion, assume that the jurors did read the articles, and the discretion of the trial court in denying the motion will not be reviewed in the absence of any conclusive ground that he was wrong, notwithstanding the more conservative course is not to allow the jury to separate in such cases.

In this case, the objections to evidence identifying the military reservation

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on which a capital crime was alleged to have been committed, including introduction of deeds and condemnation proceedings, were properly overruled, and quaere whether the United states is called on to try title to a reservation where it is in de facto exercise of exclusive jurisdiction.

The prohibition of the Fifth Amendment against compelling a man to give evidence against himself is a prohibition of the use of physical or moral compulsion to extort communications from him, and not an exclusion of his body as evidence when it is material, and so held that testimony of a witness that the accused put on a garment and it fitted him is admissible, whether the accused had put on the garment voluntarily or under duress.

In this case, the charge and instructions of the trial court as to legal presumptions of innocence and what constitutes a reasonable doubt held to be correct.

The facts, which involve the validity of a conviction for murder committed on a military reservation of the United States, are stated in the opinion.

HOLMES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The plaintiff in error was indicted in the circuit court for murder, alleged to have been committed "within the Fort Worden Military Reservation, a place under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States." There was a trial and a verdict of guilty, without capital punishment, as allowed by statute. He was sentenced to imprisonment for life, and thereupon brought this writ of error. 168 F. 141.

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The seriousness of some of the questions raised is somewhat obscured by a number of meticulous objections. We shall dispose of the latter summarily, and shall discuss at length only matters that deserve discussion. We shall follow in the main the order adopted by the plaintiff in error.

The indictment is well enough. The words quoted at the outset convey with clearness sufficient for justice that the Fort Worden Military Reservation was under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States at the time of the murder. It is alleged that Holt did with force and arms and assault make upon one Henry E. Johnson with a certain iron bar, and did then and there feloniously, willfully, knowingly, and with malice aforethought, strike, beat, and mortally wound him, the said Henry E. Johnson, with said iron bar, etc. As the acts constituting the assault are alleged to have been made feloniously and with malice aforethought, there was no need to make such allegations in the preliminary averment of assault.

It is pressed with more earnestness that the court erred in not granting leave to withdraw the plea of not guilty, and to interpose a plea in abatement and motion to quash. The ground on which leave was asked was an affidavit of the prisoner's counsel that they had been informed by Captain Newton, of the Coast Artillery Corps, that he testified before the grand jury to admissions by the prisoner, but that these admissions were obtained under circumstances that made them incompetent. The affidavit added that, aside from the above testimony, there was very little evidence against the accused. Without considering how far, if at all, the court is warranted in inquiring into the nature of the evidence on which a grand jury has acted, and how far, in case of such an inquiry, the discretion of the trial court is subject to review (United States v. Rosenburgh, 7 Wall. 580), it is enough to say that there is no reason for reviewing it here.

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All that the affidavit disclosed was that evidence in its nature competent, but made incompetent by circumstances, had been considered along with the rest. The abuses of criminal practice would be enhanced if indictments could be upset on such a ground. McGregor v. United States,134 F. 187, 192; Radford v. United States, 129 F. 49, 51; Chadwick v. United States, 141 F. 225, 235.

Next it is said that there was error in not sustaining a challenge for cause to a juryman, with the result that the prisoner's peremptory challenges were diminished by one. On his examination, it appeared that this juryman had not talked with anyone who purported to know about the case of his own knowledge, but that he had taken the newspaper statements for facts; that he had no opinion other than that derived from the papers, and that evidence would change it very easily, although it would take some evidence to remove it. He stated that, if the evidence failed to prove the facts alleged in the newspapers, he would decide according to the evidence or lack of evidence at the trial, and that he thought he could try the case solely upon the evidence, fairly and impartially. The finding of the trial court upon the strength of the juryman's opinions and his partiality or impartiality ought not to be set aside by a reviewing court unless the error is manifest, which it is far from...

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