Balzac v. People of Porto Rico, Nos. 178

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtTAFT
Citation66 L.Ed. 627,258 U.S. 298,42 S.Ct. 343
PartiesBALZAC v. PEOPLE OF PORTO RICO (two cases)
Docket Number179,Nos. 178
Decision Date10 April 1922

258 U.S. 298
42 S.Ct. 343
66 L.Ed. 627
BALZAC

v.

PEOPLE OF PORTO RICO (two cases).

Nos. 178, 179.
Argued March 20, 1922.
Decided April 10, 1922.

Page 299

Mr. Jackson H. Ralston, of Washington, D. C. for plaintiff in error.

Mr. Grant T. Trent, of Washington, D. C., for the People of Porto Rico.

[Argument of Counsel from page 299 intentionally omitted]

Page 300

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. R. 139; second case, 28 P. R. R. 141.

The first question in these cases is one of jurisdiction of this court. By section 244 of the Judicial Code, approved March 3, 1911 (36 Stat. 1157), 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

Page 301

amount involved. By the Act of January 28, 1915 (38 Stat. 803), section 244 of the Judicial Code was repealed, but section 246 (Comp. St. § 1223) 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 section 237 of the Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 1214) 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 section 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 section 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 section 237, final judgments and decrees of state courts of last resort was cut down by omitting cases (other than those involving the validity of

Page 302

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 section 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 section 246 of the Code, in its reference to section 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 section 246, to section 237 may be fairly construed to embrace subsequent changes in section 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 crimes into felonies and misdemeanors. Rev. Stat. 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. R. 387.

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

Page 303

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, but that did not come into force until after these libels were published and these trials had.

When the Penal Code, and the Code of Criminal Procedure were first passed in 1901, they both contained the provision that in all cases of libel the jury should determine the law and the fact. It was held, however, by the Supreme Court of Porto Rico in People v. Bird, 5 P. R. R. 387, 405, that this did not give a jury trial, but only made provision that if and when a right of jury trial was given in such cases, the jury should have the power to determine the law and the fact. Thereafter the Act of March 10, 1904 (Laws of Porto Rico 1904, p. 130), expressly repealed all reference to trials for libel in the Jury Act.

The effect of the Penal Code of Procedure, as construed by the Supreme Court of Porto Rico, and of the Act of March 10, 1904, repealing the jury act as to libel cases, was a statutory denial of the right of jury trial in such cases. A demand for a jury trial in this case, therefore, drew in question the validity of the statutes upon which the court relied in denying the demand. This necessarily leads to the conclusion that these cases are in the same class as those which come to this court by writ of error under section 237, as amended by the Act of 1916, and that jurisdiction by writ of error exists.

Was the issue properly saved in the record by the defendant? We think it was. The demand for a jury trial, the statute to the contrary notwithstanding, was made at the trial. It was renewed in the assignments of error in

Page 304

the Porto Rican Supreme Court and here. Those assignments did not mention the statutes whose validity was involved, but merely averred that the defendant had been denied his right as an American citizen under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. While this is informal, we think that it is sufficient when the record discloses the real nature of the controversy and the specification of the assignment leaves no doubt that it is directed to that controversy.

We have now to inquire whether that part of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, which requires that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, applies to Porto Rico. Another provision on the subject is in article 3 of the Constitution providing that the trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the state where the said crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any state, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by law have directed. The Seventh Amendment of the Constitution provides that in suits at common law, when the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved. It is well settled that these provisions for jury trial in criminal and civil cases apply to the Territories of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
258 practice notes
  • Al Bahlul v. United States, No. 11–1324.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • July 14, 2014
    ...2229 (quoting Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, 74, 77 S.Ct. 1222, 1 L.Ed.2d 1148 (1957) (Harlan, J., concurring)); see Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627 (1922) (Puerto Rico); Dorr v. United States, 195 U.S. 138, 24 S.Ct. 808, 49 L.Ed. 128 (1904) (U.S.-occupied Philip......
  • Santana v. Collazo, Civ. No. 75-1187
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico
    • February 15, 1982
    ...disagree with its basis,6 that no one in Puerto Rico is constitutionally entitled to a jury trial in criminal cases. Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627 (1922); Montalvo v. Colón, 377 F.Supp. 1332, 1336-1339 (D.P.R.1974) (three-judge The hearing may result in vari......
  • Kinsella v. United States Singleton, No. 22
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • January 18, 1960
    ...citing In re Ross, 1891, 140 U.S. 453, 11 S.Ct. 897, 36 L.Ed. 581, and the Insular Cases, such as Balzac v. People of Porto Rico, 1922, 258 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627. After rehearing at the following Term, these opinions were withdrawn and judgments were entered declaring the art......
  • Gautier Torres v. Mathews, Civ. No. 75-1331.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • February 14, 1977
    ...of whether the Constitution "follows the flag." After much debate,3 the Court in Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 426 F. Supp. 1109 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627 (1922), created4 the doctrine of incorporated versus unincorporated territories whereby in the later case (that is, territories f......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
253 cases
  • Al Bahlul v. United States, No. 11–1324.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • July 14, 2014
    ...2229 (quoting Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, 74, 77 S.Ct. 1222, 1 L.Ed.2d 1148 (1957) (Harlan, J., concurring)); see Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627 (1922) (Puerto Rico); Dorr v. United States, 195 U.S. 138, 24 S.Ct. 808, 49 L.Ed. 128 (1904) (U.S.-occupied Philip......
  • Santana v. Collazo, Civ. No. 75-1187
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico
    • February 15, 1982
    ...disagree with its basis,6 that no one in Puerto Rico is constitutionally entitled to a jury trial in criminal cases. Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627 (1922); Montalvo v. Colón, 377 F.Supp. 1332, 1336-1339 (D.P.R.1974) (three-judge The hearing may result in vari......
  • Kinsella v. United States Singleton, No. 22
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • January 18, 1960
    ...citing In re Ross, 1891, 140 U.S. 453, 11 S.Ct. 897, 36 L.Ed. 581, and the Insular Cases, such as Balzac v. People of Porto Rico, 1922, 258 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627. After rehearing at the following Term, these opinions were withdrawn and judgments were entered declaring the art......
  • Gautier Torres v. Mathews, Civ. No. 75-1331.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • February 14, 1977
    ...of whether the Constitution "follows the flag." After much debate,3 the Court in Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 426 F. Supp. 1109 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627 (1922), created4 the doctrine of incorporated versus unincorporated territories whereby in the later case (that is, territories f......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 books & journal articles
  • The Insular Cases Run Amok: Against Constitutional Exceptionalism in the Territories.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 8, June 2022
    • June 1, 2022
    ...THE ERA OF TERRITORIAL AND POLITICAL EXPANSION (2017); AZIZ RANA, THE TWO FACES OF AMERICAN FREEDOM (2010). (9.) Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 311 (1922) (explaining the relationship between incorporation and statehood, which Downes had implied, two decades after Downes). Legal histor......
  • Aurelius' Article III Revisionism: Reimagining Judicial Engagement with the Insular Cases and 'The Law of the Territories'.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 8, June 2022
    • June 1, 2022
    ...(discussing confusion over the Insular Cases at recent oral argument in United States v. Vaello Madero). (9.) See Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 305, 312 (1922); United States' Memorandum of Law in Support of the Constitutionality of PROMESA at 8-12, 9 n.5, In re Fin. Oversight & M......
  • Indigenous Subjects.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 8, June 2022
    • June 1, 2022
    ...23-24 (1831). (127.) E.g., Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244, 250 (1901); Gonzalez v. Williams, 192 U.S. 1,10 (1904); Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298,304-05 (1922) ; see also Harris v. Rosario, 446 U.S. 651, 651-52 (1980) (applying the Insular Cases's extraterritoriality doctrine to an equ......
  • Navassa: Property, Sovereignty, and the Law of the Territories.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 8, June 2022
    • June 1, 2022
    ...See Goodwin v. Fawkes, 67 VI. 104, 109 (2016). (193.) Lawrence, supra note 115. (194.) Id. (195.) Id. (196.) See Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298 (1922); Ocampo v. United States, 234 U.S. 91 (197.) Philippine Independence Act, Pub. L. No. 72-311, Ch. 11, 47 Stat. 761 (1933), amended by Ph......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT