291 U.S. 97 (1934), 241, Snyder v. Massachusetts

Docket Nº:No. 241
Citation:291 U.S. 97, 54 S.Ct. 330, 78 L.Ed. 674
Party Name:Snyder v. Massachusetts
Case Date:January 08, 1934
Court:United States Supreme Court

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291 U.S. 97 (1934)

54 S.Ct. 330, 78 L.Ed. 674




No. 241

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 8, 1934

Argued November 7, 1933




1. So far as the Fourteenth Amendment is concerned, the presence of the defendant in a prosecution for felony is a condition of due process to the extent that a fair and just hearing would be thwarted by his absence, and to that extent only. P. 105.

2. In a state prosecution for murder, the accused was denied permission to attend a view, which was ordered by the court on motion of the prosecution, at the opening of the trial. The jurors, under a sworn bailiff, visited the scene of the crime, accompanied by the judge, the counsel for both parties and the court stenographer. The counsel, acting as showers by the permission of the judge, pointed out particular features of the scene and asked the jurors to observe them, but there was no statement of the evidence. A stenographic record was made of everything that was said or done. The defendant, at the trial, virtually admitted that the place visited was the right one, and if there had been failure to point out anything material, he had full opportunity to prove the fact and ask for another view. Held, that the viewing in the absence of the accused was not a denial of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 108.

3. Statements to the jury pointing out the specific objects to be noticed have been a traditional accompaniment of a view in England and in this country, and this procedure was not displaced by the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 110.

4. Designation of counsel for the parties as the showers is also an ancient practice, and cannot be prejudicial to the defendant. P. 113.

5. Assuming that the knowledge derived from a view is evidence, still a view is not a trial, nor any part of a trial, in the sense in which a trial was understood at common law. P. 113.

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6. To transfer to a view the constitutional privileges applicable to a trial would be forgetful of history. P. 114.

7. Irrespective of whether a view be labeled as part of the "trial," and the knowledge so derived as "evidence," the question whether exclusion of the defendant not by a statutory mandate, but by a discretionary ruling of the court, violates due process of law is determined by conceptions of fairness and justice applied to the particular facts. P. 114.

8. A statement made by the judge during a view in the absence of the defendant, to the effect that one of the structures pointed out was not there at the homicide -- held improper, but harmless, both because it was not material and because it was confirmed by the accused and his counsel at the trial. P. 118.

9. A view constitutionally taken in the absence of the defendant is not to be adjudged unconstitutional because the court told the jury it was evidence. P. 121.

282 Mass. 401; 185 N.E. 376, affirmed.

CERTIORARI, 290 U.S. 606, to review a judgment entered on the affirmance of a conviction of murder.

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CARDOZO, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CARDOZO delivered the opinion of the Court.

On April 9, 1931, James M. Kiley was shot to death at a gasoline station at Somerville, Massachusetts. Three men, Garrick, Donnellon and the petitioner Snyder, joined in the murder and in the attempted robbery that led to it. Garrick confessed to his part in the crime, and became a witness for the state. Donnellon and Snyder were tried together and sentenced to be put to death. The jury found upon abundant evidence that the guilt of each had

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been established beyond a reasonable doubt. At the trial and on appeal, Snyder made the claim that, through the refusal of the trial judge to permit him to be present at a view, there had been a denial of due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the conviction. 282 Mass. 41, 185 N.E. 376. A writ of certiorari brings the case here.

At the opening of the trial, there was a motion by the Commonwealth that the jury be directed to view the scene of the crime. This motion was granted. In granting it, the court acted under a Massachusetts statute which provides "The court may order a view by a jury impaneled to try a criminal case." General Laws of Massachusetts, c. 234, § 35. The court appointed counsel for Donnellon and for Snyder to represent their respective clients at the place to be viewed. Counsel for Donnellon moved that he be permitted to go there with his client after the view, but did not ask that his client be present with the jury. The court stated that such an order would probably be made. Counsel for Snyder moved that his client be permitted to view the scene with the jury, invoking the protection of the federal constitution. This motion was denied. The jurors were then placed in charge of bailiffs duly sworn. Accompanied by these bailiffs and also by the judge, the court stenographer, the District Attorney, and the counsel for the defendants, they went forth to make their view.

The first stopping place was at the filling station, 13 Somerville Avenue. Entering the station, the District Attorney pointed out to the jurors the particular parts of the building that he wished them to observe. He asked them to note the window at the rear, its position with reference to the entrance, the position of other windows to the right, the size of the room, the angle made by a partition, and the location of other objects. Counsel for

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Snyder called attention to the view from within the building looking out, and to the condition of the floor. Leaving the station by the front door, the jury viewed the building from the other side of the street. The District Attorney asked that note be made of the driveway to the right and left of the station, the three pumps in front, and also the width of the street. Counsel for Snyder called attention to the nature of the travel, the setback of the station from the roadway, and, in particular, the possibility of observing from without what was taking place within. After the visit to the station, the jurors were taken a short distance away, where they were asked to make note of the layout of the streets. They then went back to the station, the District Attorney saying that he had omitted to direct their attention to the lights. The lights were then observed, the dimensions of a fence in front of them, and also, once more, the gasoline pumps. The District Attorney stated that the middle pump was not there at the time of the homicide. Counsel for the petitioner answered that he had no knowledge on the subject, but would accept his adversary's statement. Thereupon, the judge, who had guided the proceeding, stated the agreement to the jurors assembled on the walk. "It is [54 S.Ct. 332] agreed," he said,

that, at the time of the offense, that is, on April 9, 1931, there were but two pumps in front of the gasoline station, the one on the extreme right that is painted green and the one on the extreme left that is painted black. Those two were there. The one in the middle, with the blue striping on it, was not there.

After the completion of the view, the group returned to the courthouse, and the trial went on. In charging the jury, the judge said,

Now what have you before you on which to form your judgment and to render your finding and your verdict? The view, the testimony given by the witnesses, and the exhibits comprise the evidence that is before you.

The question in this court is whether a

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view in the absence of a defendant who has made demand that he be present is a denial of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is free to regulate the procedure of its courts in accordance with its own conception of policy and fairness unless, in so doing, it offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental. Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78, 106, 111, 112; Rogers v. Peck, 199 U.S. 425, 434; Maxwell v. Dow, 176 U.S. 581, 604; Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516; Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 326; Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 67. Its procedure does not run foul of the Fourteenth Amendment because another method may seem to our thinking to be fairer or wiser or to give a surer promise of protection to the prisoner at the bar. Consistently with that amendment, trial by jury may be abolished. Walker v. Sauvinet, 92 U.S. 90; Maxwell v. Dow, supra; N.Y. Central R. Co. v. White, 243 U.S. 188, 208; Wagner Electric Co. v. Lyndon, 262 U.S. 226, 232. Indictments by a grand jury may give way to informations by a public officer. Hurtado v. California, supra; Gaines v. Washington, 277 U.S. 81, 86. The privilege against self-incrimination may be withdrawn and the accused put upon the stand as a witness for the state. Twining v. New Jersey, supra. What may not be taken away is notice of the charge and an adequate opportunity to be heard in defense of it. Twining v. New Jersey, supra; Powell v. Alabama, supra, pp. 68, 71; Holmes v. Conway, 241 U.S. 624. Cf. Blackmer v. United States, 284 U.S. 421, 440.

We assume in aid of the petitioner that, in a prosecution for a felony, the defendant has the privilege under the Fourteenth Amendment to be present in his own person whenever his presence has a relation, reasonably substantial, to the fulness of his opportunity to defend

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against the charge. Thus, the privilege to confront one's accusers and cross-examine them face to face is assured to a defendant by the Sixth Amendment in prosecutions in the federal courts (Gaines v. Washington, supra, at p. 85), and, in prosecutions in the state courts, is assured very often by the constitutions of the states. For present purposes, we assume that the privilege...

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