258 U.S. 298 (1922), Balzac v. Porto Rico

Citation:258 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627
Party Name:Balzac v. Porto Rico
Case Date:April 10, 1922
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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258 U.S. 298 (1922)

42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627

Balzac

v.

Porto Rico

United States Supreme Court

April 10, 1922

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF PORTO RICO

Syllabus

1. The Act of January 28, 1915, c. 22, 38 Stat. 803, amending § 246 of the Judicial Code, and providing that writs of error from this Court may be prosecuted to the supreme courts of Porto Rico and Hawaii in the same classes of cases as to the courts of last resort of the states under Jud.Code, § 237, meant to assimilate the jurisdiction over those territorial courts to that over the state courts and is to be construed as embracing subsequent changes in § 237 not obviously inapplicable, such as the amendments made by the Act of September 6, 1916, c. 448, 39 Stat. 726. P. 300.

2. In prosecutions for criminal libel in a district court of Porto Rico, defendant demanded a jury under the Sixth Amendment, which was denied him upon a construction of local statutes, applicable to this and other misdemeanors. Held that the demand drew in question the validity of the statutes, within the meaning of Jud.Code § 237, as amended in 1916, and that judgments of the Supreme Court of Porto Rico affirming the convictions were reviewable here by writ of error. P. 302.

3. To present the constitutionality of a statute, it is not essential that an assignment of error should mention the statute in question, if the record definitely shows that its constitutionality was questioned and the assignment is clearly directed to that controversy. P. 303.

4. The provisions of the Constitution guaranteeing jury trial in all criminal prosecutions do not apply to a territory belonging to the

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United States which has not been incorporated into the Union, and Porto Rico was not so incorporated by the Act of April 12, 1900, c.191, 31 Stat. 77, which gave it a temporary government. P. 304. Dorr v. United States, 195 U.S. 138.

5. The Organic Act for Porto Rico of March 2, 1917, c. 145, 39 Stat. 951, known as the Jones Act, did not have the effect of incorporating Porto Rico into the United States. P. 305.

6. Since the Spanish War, an intention of Congress to incorporate new territory into the Union is not to be admitted without express declaration or an implication so strong as to exclude any other view. P. 306.

7. The provisions of § 5 of the Organic Act, supra, for extending federal citizenship to citizens and certain residents of Porto Rico, did not extend the jury system there. P. 307.

8. Neither can incorporation into the United States be implied from the organization of the United States District Court in Porto Rico, allowance of review of cases from its Supreme Court involving the Constitution, admission of Porto Ricans to the Military and Naval Academies, sale of United States stamps in the Island, or extension to it of federal revenue, navigation, banking, bankruptcy, employers' liability, safety appliance, extradition and census laws. P. 311.

9. Published reflections on the Governor of Porto Rico held libelous and not legitimate comment protected by the guaranty of free speech and free press in the First Amendment of the Constitution. P. 314.

28 P.R. 139, 141 affirmed.

Review of two judgments of the Supreme Court of Porto Rico which affirmed judgments of the District Court for Arecibo imposing sentences to imprisonment based on convictions of criminal libel.

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TAFT, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TAFT delivered the opinion of the Court.

These are two prosecutions for criminal libel, brought against the same defendant, Jesus M. Balzac, on informations filed in the District Court for Arecibo, Porto Rico, by the district attorney for that district. Balzac was the editor of a daily paper published in Arecibo, known as "El Baluarte," and the articles upon which the charges of libel were based were published on April 16 and April 23, 1918, respectively. In each case, the defendant demanded a jury. The Code of Criminal Procedure of Porto Rico grants a jury trial in cases of felony, but not in misdemeanors. The defendant nevertheless contended that he was entitled to a jury in such a case, under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, and that the language of the alleged libels was only fair comment, and their publication was protected by the First Amendment. His contentions were overruled; he was tried by the court, and was convicted in both cases and sentenced to five months' imprisonment in the district jail in the first, and to four months in the second, and to the payment of the costs in each. The defendant appealed to the Supreme Court of Porto Rico. That court affirmed both judgments. People v. Balzac, 28 P.R. Co. 139; second case, 28 P.R. Co. 141.

The first question in these cases is one of jurisdiction of this Court. By § 244 of the Judicial Code, approved March 3, 1911, it was provided that writs of error and appeals from the final judgments and decrees of the Supreme Court of Porto Rico might be prosecuted to this Court in any case in which was drawn in question the validity of a treaty or statute of, or authority exercised under, the United States or wherein the Constitution of the United States, or a treaty thereof, or an act of Congress was brought in question and the right claimed thereunder was denied, and this without regard to the

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amount involved. By the Act of January 28, 1915 (38 Stat. 803), § 244 of the Judicial Code was repealed, but § 246 was amended and made to apply to the appellate jurisdiction of this Court in respect to the decisions of the Supreme Court, not only of Hawaii, as before, but also Porto Rico, and it was provided that writs of error to those courts from this Court could be prosecuted in the same class of cases as those in which this Court was authorized under § 237 of the Judicial Code to review decisions of state courts of last resort. Section 237 at that time allowed a writ of error to final decisions in state courts of last resort where was drawn in question the validity of a treaty, or a statute of, or an authority exercised under, the United States and the decision was against its validity, or where was drawn in question the validity of a statute of, or an authority exercised under any state, on the ground of its being repugnant to the Constitution, treaties, or laws of the United States and the decision was in favor of its validity, or where any title, right, privilege, or immunity was claimed under the Constitution, or any treaty or statute of, or commission held, or authority exercised under, the United States, and the decision was against the title, right, privilege or immunity especially set up or claimed by either party under such Constitution, treaty, statute, commission or authority. By Act of January 28, 1915, 38 Stat. 803, 804, amending § 246, this Court was given power by certiorari to bring up for review all final judgments or decrees in civil or criminal cases in the Supreme Courts of Porto Rico and Hawaii, other than those reviewable here by writ of error because in the class similar to that described in § 237 of the Judicial Code. By Act of September 6, 1916, 39 Stat. 726, the jurisdiction of this Court to review by writ of error, under § 237, final judgments and decrees of state courts of last resort was cut down by omitting cases (other than those involving the validity of

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a treaty, statute or authority exercised under the United States or any state) wherein a title, right, privilege, or immunity, was claimed under the Constitution, or any treaty or statute of, or commission held, or authority exercised under, the United States, and the decision was against such title, right, privilege or immunity, and such cases, it was provided, could only be examined on review in this Court by certiorari.

The question now presented is whether the amendment to § 237 of the Judicial Code by the Act of 1916 applies to, and affects, the appellate jurisdiction of this Court in reviewing decisions of the Supreme Court of Porto Rico. We think it does. We think that the manifest purpose of the Act of 1915, amending § 246 of the Code, in its reference to § 237 of the Judicial Code was to assimilate the appellate jurisdiction of this Court over the Supreme Courts of Porto Rico and Hawaii to that over state courts of last resort, and that the reference in amended § 246, to § 237 may be fairly construed to embrace subsequent changes in § 237 that are not obviously inapplicable.

This brings us to the question whether there was drawn in question in these cases the validity of a statute of Porto Rico under the Constitution of the United States. The Penal Code of Porto Rico divides [42 S.Ct. 345] crimes into felonies and misdemeanors (Rev.Stats. and Codes of Porto Rico 1911, Penal Code, § 13). A felony is described as a crime punishable by death or imprisonment in the penitentiary. Every other crime is declared to be a misdemeanor. Penal Code, § 14. Section 178 of the Porto Rican Code of Criminal Procedure provided that issues of fact in cases of felony should be tried by a jury when the defendant so elected, but gave no such right in the case of misdemeanors. This was construed by the Supreme Court to deny such right. People v. Bird, 5 P.R. Co. 387.

By § 244 (5676) of the Penal Code (as amended by Act of March 9, 1911, p. 71), the publication of a libel is made

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punishable by a fine not exceeding $5,000, or imprisonment in jail for a term not exceeding two years, or both such fine and imprisonment, and also the costs of the action, in the discretion of the court. It is therefore plain that libel under the Porto Rican law is a misdemeanor, and a jury trial was not required therein. By the Act of July 22, 1919 (Laws of Porto Rico 1919, No. 84, p. 684), a jury trial is now given in misdemeanors,...

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