Com. v. Spencer

Decision Date22 June 1912
Citation212 Mass. 438,99 N.E. 266
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. SPENCER.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
COUNSEL

Christopher T. Callahan, Dist. Atty., of Holyoke, for the commonwealth.

R. P Stapleton, of Hoyoke, and C. L. Young, of Springfield, for defendant.

OPINION

HAMMOND J.

This was an indictment in two counts for the murder of Martha B Blackstone on March 31, 1910, in Springfield in the county of Hampden. The indictment was entered in court May 5, 1910, and on the 16th of the same month the defendant being arraigned pleaded not guilty. Counsel were assigned to him and the 19th day of September then next was set as the time for trial. The crime for which the defendant was indicted was committed in a dwelling house. On the first floor of this house lived Mrs. Dow, an elderly lady, and her two daughters, who were schoolteachers. On the day of the homicide they had invited the deceased to spend the evening with them. She arrived late in the afternoon. After the evening meal, while the four ladies were seated at a table in the parlor solving a picture puzzle, at about 8 o'clock p. m., the defendant who, as the evidence tended to show, had surglariously entered the house through a window, suddenly appeared at the doorway between the dining room and the parlor. He wore over a part of his face a black handkerchief as a mask and was armed with a revolver and he demanded money. He was first seen by one of the daughters, and, as she screamed, all the ladies arose and moved from the back parlor, where they had been sitting, toward the front parlor The deceased screaming loudly was moving towards the front hall, when the defendant suddenly drew his revolver and shot her through the heart, killing her instantly. Great confusion followed, during which the defendant, after shooting but not mortally wounding one of the daughters, rushed through the front hall and out of the front door.

The defendant, on August 18th, moved for a change of venue to the county of Worcester, 'for the reason that an impartial trial [could not] be had in the county in which the case [was] pending.' This motion was overruled two days later.

On September 15th, four months after the plea of not guilty and more than three weeks after the motion for a change of venue had been overruled, the counsel for the defense filed a motion setting forth that the defendant 'is now insane, and in such mental condition that his commitment to a hospital for the insane is necessary for his proper care and observation pending the determination of his insanity,' and praying therefore that he be committed to a state hospital for the insane 'under such limitations as said court may order.' After a hearing upon this motion during which there was evidence from 'experts in insanity,' the defendant was committed, on September 17th, to a state hospital, under the limitations hereinafter stated. On July 25, 1911, more than ten months after his commitment, the Chief Justice of the superior court ordered that he be removed from the hospital to the jail at Springfield, 'there to be held in custody in accordance with the terms of the process by which he was originally committed to said jail'; and on August 1st following the defendant was so transferred. On September 18, 1911, the trial was set down for November 13, 1911.

1. On the day assigned, the defendant, before the jury were impaneled, filed a motion that he be committed to the state hospital for the insane upon the ground that he had not been 'legally returned from the state hospital [to] which he was heretofore committed by the order of the court.' This motion was overruled and the defendant excepted.

The defendant was committed to the hospital under St. 1909, c. 504, § 103, which provides that if a defendant in a criminal case is, at or before the time appointed for trial, 'found by the court to be insane or in such mental condition that his commitment to a hospital for the insane is necessary for the proper care or observation of such person pending the determination of his insanity, the court may commit him to a state hospital for the insane under such limitations as it may order.' It also provides that if a person so removed is in the opinion of the trustees and superintendent of the hospital restored to sanity, he shall be forthwith restored to the jail from which he was removed, to be there held in accordance with the terms of the process by which he was originally committed.

The defendant contends that he could not lawfully be returned except upon a finding by the trustees that he was restored to sanity. It is to be noted that we are not dealing with a case where the grand jury has failed to return an indictment against an accused person solely on the ground of his insanity, nor where a trial jury has for the same reason acquitted a defendant, nor where the defendant for the same reason cannot plead to an indictment. The question before us in no way respects the mental condition of the defendant at the time when he committed the homicide, or was indicted, or entered his plea, nor does it concern the question of his guilt or innocence. It has reference simply to the disposition to be made of him after a general plea of not guilty, and before the trial upon the issues raised by that plea.

In the absence of any statute upon the subject it seems to have been the rule at common law that the prisoner at that stage of the case was held in jail, under the precept by which he was committed, until his trial, or until released by some order of the court. See Archibald, Pl. Ev. & Pr. (24th Eng. Ed.) 191-193, and cases there cited. And such seems to have been the practice in this commonwealth before St. 1849, c. 68. This statute provided in substance that if at the time appointed for the trial the court before whom the trial was to be had was satisfied that the defendant was insance, it could authorize such person to be removed to an insane hospital for such term, and under such limitations, as it should direct. And with certain modifications not here material this statute was re-enacted in Gen. Sts. c. 172, § 14, Pub. Sts. c. 214, § 16, and R. L. c. 219, § 12. Up to the year 1904, this power to commit was limited to cases where the defendant was found by the court to be insane, but in that year it was extended to cases where the defendant is found by two experts in insanity, designated by the court, to be in such mental condition that his committal to an insane hospital is necessary for the proper observation of such person pending the determination of his sanity. St. 1904, c. 257. Then follows St. 1909, c. 504, § 103, the provisions of which have been hereinbefore recited.

Upon the hearing upon the original motion for committal to the hospital the defendant was not found to be insane, but only to be in such mental condition that his committal was necessary for his proper care and observation pending the determination of his insanity; he was committed simply for that purpose; and he was to be there confined until the further order of the court under the proper care and observation of the officers of the hospital who were to make monthly reports to the Chief Justice of the court. Ten months afterwards the Chief Justice ordered that he be returned to the jail at Springfield.

In view of the practice before St. 1849, c. 68, and the history of the legislation upon this subject, we are of opinion that St. 1909, c. 504, § 103, was not intended, at least in cases where the person indicted is committed, not upon the ground that he is insane but simply for examination pending the determination of his insanity, to delegate solely to the trustees and superintendent the question whether he should longer remain in the hospital, but that where, as in this case, the person indicted has been committed pending the determination of his insanity until the further order of the court, the court upon its own motion can order him to be returned to the jail, and determine for itself the question of insanity upon the reports made by the officers or upon any other competent evidence. The purpose and legal effect of the statute is not to take away from the court the jurisdiction to determine finally the question of the sanity of the defendant, but to provide a place for his care and custody pending the determination of that question.

It appears that the order for the return to the jail was not made until after about ten months from the time of the committal of the defendant to the hospital; and it is to be presumed that the monthly reports of the mental condition of the defendant had been sent to the Chief Justice in compliance with the order of committal. The record does not disclose the nature of these reports. Under these circumstances the defendant has no ground of complaint against the order for his return. The fact also that the order for the return is in the form of a letter and not under the seal of the court is immaterial to the question before us. The defendant had pleaded not guilty to the indictment, he had not been adjudged insane, he properly could be ordered to trial, and he was in court and the court was not bound to go through the ceremony of sending him back to the insane hospital simply that he might be again returned to jail. And that was so even if the order of the Chief Justice was informally communicated to the officer or to the hospital authorities. Moreover the overruling of the defendant's motion was of itself in substance a sufficient order by the court for the appearance of the defendant. The motion was rightly overruled and the defendant, never having been adjudged insane, was thereupon properly before the court for trial.

Upon the record no federal question appears to have been raised at the...

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