Clark v. The Commonwealth

Citation29 Pa. 129
PartiesWilliam John Clark versus The Commonwealth.
Decision Date01 January 1858
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Robert F. Clark, for the prisoner.—The preamble to the act discloses what it was intended to accomplish. Before its passage the courts exercised a discretionary power to discharge, and the object of the enactment was to convert into a right what the court might grant as a favour. That right was a discharge at the second term if not indicted and tried, the same as if he had been tried and acquitted.

The act makes its own exceptions. The array was not quashed upon his motion. All the facts came clearly and distinctly upon the record. The statute is a remedial one, and should be liberally and beneficially expounded in favour of the liberty of the citizen. The terms are plain and explicit, and appear to leave no room for construction. The argument ab inconvenienti can in such a case have no force.

Is the operation of this act restrained by judicial construction? These may be classed under three heads: 1st. When the trial is impossible by the rules of law, as in the case of Martin Rinner, 16 S. & R. 304. 2d. When the trial is impossible by the act of God, as in the case of William Phillips, 7 Watts 366. 3d. When the delay is occasioned by the wrongful act of the defendant, as in Arnold and Others, 3 Yeates 263. Commonwealth v. Prophet, 1 Brown 135, is like the present, and there the prisoner was discharged: Commonwealth v. Chauncey, 2 Ash. 101. It is only when a statute is doubtful that an argument from inconvenience will have weight: 9 Bac. Ab. 240-255; 4 U. S. Con. Rep. 595.

2. The addition of "Mill Boss" is insensible. It is not, as the Commonwealth's counsel suppose, a wrong addition, but no addition at all.

3. The plea to the jurisdiction should have been sustained.

It puts in question the power of the legislature to alter a judicial district, after they have districted the state and the judges have been elected by the people of the several districts.

The amendment to the constitution provided "That the president judges of the several Courts of Common Pleas and of such other courts of record as are or shall be established by law, and all other judges required to be learned in the law, shall be elected by the qualified electors of the respective districts over which they are to preside or act as judges." The state is districted by the legislature and an election for judges is held. The right vested in the qualified voters of the several districts has been exercised, and the majority have chosen their judge. Where is the power of the legislature to alter the district after such election? By what authority does the legislature presume to abridge or nullify the right of any county to a voice in the election of the judge who is to preside in such county, and in whose election the constitution provides they shall have a voice? What more glaring invasion can there be of a constitutional right than this? — the legislature removed from the bench of Montour county the judge of their choice, and supplied his place for nine years to come with a judge in whose election the qualified voters of such county had no voice. The power of the legislature to alter, implies the power to abolish a district. If after the state is districted and an election had, the legislature can abolish entire districts at pleasure, then the constitutional right of the people to elect their judge is a nullity.

Comly and Rhodes, for the Commonwealth.—The 1st and 2d errors assigned do not arise upon the record. Nothing can be added to the component parts of a record: Middleton v. Commonwealth, 2 Watts 286: and it is clear from this case and the Commonwealth v. Church, 1 Barr 105, that the opinion of the judge forms no part of the record. It is so in civil cases where the charge is not excepted to: Holden v. Cole, 1 Barr 303. Still less can the written reasons of the defendant below be so considered, or any evidence of the facts contained in them. Stripping the case then of the statements of defendant, and the opinions of the court, it nowhere appears when he was committed, or that he ever applied for a discharge or the court refused such a motion. The facts in such a case cannot be brought before this court. The defendant's only remedy was a writ of habeas corpus; but he cannot wait and take his chance of a trial. No defendant has yet been discharged under the Act of 1785 after trial and conviction. If the facts could be brought before this court properly, the decision of the court below would doubtless be sustained.

2. The 38th section of the Act of 14th April, 1834, requires that the names and additions of persons selected as jurors shall be written on slips of paper, but there is no law designating or enumerating what shall be proper additions. By what criterion can it be determined that "Mill Boss" is not a proper addition? As science and the arts advance, new occupations arise, and they cannot be defined beforehand. But a few years ago "Telegraph Operator" would have been unintelligible — now it is well known and understood. The defendant was indicted with the addition of "Puddler," an occupation well known in iron manufacturing districts, but unknown to thousands in other localities.

So "Mill Boss" is a term perfectly well understood in Montour county, as a superintendent of hands in a rolling-mill, and so the juror was known. "Boss" is defined by Webster as a "superintendent." But whether it indicates, at the place of trial, an addition or occupation, is a question of fact which must be left to the court below, and the evidence cannot be removed.

The last error assigned, it appears to the counsel for the Commonwealth, cannot be sustained. The plea of the defendant is simply, and nothing more than, a challenge to the president judge which could not be allowed: 3 Bl. Com. 361. As a plea it would require him to sit as judge to decide his own right to the seat he occupied. It cannot be contended that he was not a judge de facto; and that being the case, his title to the office can only be determined by quo warranto in the Supreme Court. But he was a judge de jure. He was duly elected, by the qualified voters, president judge of the 8th judicial district, and that is the office which he now holds. The legislature added the county of Montour to his district, in the exercise of a power which it is absolutely necessary they should possess, and which is denied to them by no section of the constitution. The case of the Commonwealth v. McClean, 4 Yeates 399, is full to the point. C. J. TILGHMAN says (page 400), "when the present constitution was framed, it was well understood that the power of altering counties had always been exercised by the legislature, and that it was necessary that power should continue. It was understood, too, that certain consequences necessarily flowed from the alteration of counties. In construing the constitution, therefore, we must take care not to destroy those implied powers, without which society could not exist." All this applies as strongly to the alteration of judicial districts. In this case, it was decided that a justice of the peace, commissioned during good behaviour, who resided in the part cut off from the county, for which he was commissioned, ceased to be a justice — that the jurisdiction of a justice of the peace increased or diminished as the county increased or diminished. On the same principle Judge Conyngham's jurisdiction decreased, when Montour county was taken from his district, and Judge Jordan's was increased, when the same county was added to his, and the vested rights of no one were affected by the change.

The opinion of the court was delivered by WOODWARD, J.

The plaintiff in error, William John Clark, having been convicted and sentenced for murder in the first degree, in the Court of Oyer and Terminer of Montour county, removes the record into this court, and assigns four several errors, which are to be considered in order.

The first and second errors may be considered together, as they both relate to the refusal of the court to discharge Clark under the provisions of the third section of the Habeas Corpus Act of 18th February, 1785, after he had been held in confinement two terms without indictment or trial.

The first motion for his discharge on this ground was made on the 24th December, 1857, which the court on the same day denied. Then again, on the 16th February, 1858, when he was arraigned, he put in a written refusal to plead on two grounds, one of which was this confinement for two terms and more without trial, although he was ready for trial at both of the terms of court which had intervened. The court again refused to discharge him, and directed a plea of not guilty to be entered for him.

These two applications for discharge were essentially habeas corpus proceedings, though not such in form. They were grounded upon the habeas corpus statute, and the power invoked was that which the court exercises under the writ of habeas corpus, and in no other manner. Viewed in this light, they were distinct and separate from the proceedings which are brought up by our writ of error. They form no part of this record, and are not necessarily or regularly brought up with it. If the judgment of the court in a habeas corpus case were reviewable here, which it is not except on another writ of habeas corpus issued out of this court, the writ of error which we allowed to the prisoner was not directed to that judgment and did not bring it up.

It is perfectly manifest, therefore, that the question raised by the first two assignments of error is not regularly here, and we would be quite justifiable in declining to express any opinion upon it.

Considering, however, that the prisoner's life is at stake, and that his counsel have enabled us...

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