Hopt v. People

Citation120 U.S. 430,7 S.Ct. 614,30 L.Ed. 708
PartiesHOPT v. PEOPLE. 1
Decision Date07 March 1887
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

P. L. Williams and Ben. Sheeks, for plaintiff in error.

Asst. Atty. Gen Maury, for defendant in error.


The defendant below, the plaintiff in error here, Frederick Hopt, was indicted in the district court of the Third judicial district of Utah, in December, 1880, for the murder of John F. Turner on the third of the preceding July. He was four times convicted in that court, upon this indictment, of murder in the first degree. The judgment of death pronounced against him on each previous conviction was reversed by this court. The decisions are found in 104 U. S. 631; 110 U. S. 574, 4 Sup. Ct. Rep. 202; and 114 U. S. 488, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 972. The last conviction took place in September, 1885. Judgment was passed in October following and on appeal to the supreme court of the territory it was affirmed in January 1886, except as to the time of its execution; that was to be fixed by the district court, to which the cause was remanded for that purpose. To secure a reversal of this judgment the case is brought before us on a writ of error. The errors assigned are (1) the ruling of the trial court upon challenges to several jurors; (2) the admission in evidence of the opinion of a witness as to the direction from which the blow was delivered which caused the death of the deceased; (3) the instruction to the jury as to the meaning of the words 'reasonable doubt;' and (4) the reference on the argument by the district attorney to previous trials of the case.

1. Four persons summoned as jurors were examined on their voir dire, and challenged by the defendant, one for actual bias, under section 241 of the act of the territory regulating proceedings in criminal cases, passed in 1878, and the other three for both actual and implied bias. Actual bias is defined by that act to be 'the existence of a state of mind, on the part of a juror, which leads to a just inference in reference to the case that he will not act with entire impartiality.' The juror Young, challenged as having that state of mind, that is, for actual bias, testified that he had heard of the case, but had never talked with any one who pretended to know about it; that he had impressions as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant, but could not say that he had ever formed any opinion on the subject, and did not remember that he had ever expressed any; that possibly his impressions were strong enough to create, from sympathy, some bias or prejudice, but he thought he could sit on the jury and be guided by the evidence, and try the case impartially, as if he had never heard of it before. Upon this testimony, the court was of opinion that he was a competent juror, and accordingly the challenge was disallowed. In this ruling we see no error. The juror was then peremptorily challenged by the defendant, and was excused. That act also provides, in section 242, that a challenge for implied bias may be taken for all or any of the following causes, and for no other: (1) Consanguinity or affinity within the fourth degree to the person alleged to be injured by the offense charged, or on whose complaint the prosecution was instituted, or to the defendant. (2) Standing in the relation of guardian and ward, attorney and client, master and servant, or landlord and tenant, or being a member of the family of the defendant, or of the person alleged to be injured by the offense charged, or on whose complaint the prosecution was instituted, or in his employment on wages. (3) Being the party adverse to the defendant in a civil action, or having complaint against or being accused by him in a criminal prosecution.( 4) Having served on the grand jury which found the indictment, or on a coroner's jury which inquired into the death of a person whose death is the subject of the indictment. (5) Having served on a trial jury which has tried another person for offense charged in the indictment. (6) Having been one of the jury formerly sworn to try the same indictment, and whose verdict was set aside, or which was discharged without a verdict, after the case was submitted to it. (7) Having served as a juror in a civil action brought against the defendant for the act charged as an offense. (8) Having formed or expressed an unqualified opinion or belief that the prisoner is guilty or not guilty of the offense charged. (9) If the offense charged be punishable with death, the entertaining of such conscientious opinions as would preclude his finding the defendant guilty; in which case he must neither be permitted nor compelled to serve as a juror. The act provides, in section 244, that, 'in a challenge for implied bias, one or more of the causes stated in section 242 must be alleged.' Laws 1878, pp. 111, 112.

Another act of the territory, passed in March, 1884, declares that 'no person shall be disqualified as a juror by reason of having formed or expressed an opinion upon the matter or cause to be submitted to such jury, [juror,] founded upon public rumor, statements in public journals, or common notoriety: provided it appear to the court, upon his declaration, under oath or otherwise, that he can and will, notwithstanding such an opinion, act impartially and fairly upon the matters submitted to him. The challenge may be oral, but must be entered in the minutes of the court or of the phonographic reporter.' Laws 1884, p. 124.

The juror Gabott, challenged for both actual and implied bias, testified OL his direct examination, in substance, as follows: That he had heard of the case through the newspapers, and read what was represented to be the evidence; that he had talked about it since that time; that he did not think he had ever expressed an opinion on the case, but that he had formed a qualified opinion,—that is, if the evidence were true, or the reports were true; that he had an opinion touching the guilt or innocence of the accused which it would take evidence to remove; but that he thought he could go into the jury-box and sit as if he had never heard of the case, and that what he had heard would not make the least difference. On his cross-examination, he testified that he knew nothing about the case, except what he had read from time to time in the public press; that, if what he had heard turned out to be the facts in the case, he had an opinion, otherwise not,—that is, his opinion was a qualified one, and that, according to his present state of mind, he could sit on the jury and determine the case without reference to anything he had heard; that he was not conscious of any bias or prejudice that might prevent him from dealing with the defendant impartially; and that he thought he could try the case according to the law and the evidence given in court. On his re-examination he further stated that he would be guided by the evidence altogether, without being influenced by any opinion he might then have, or may have previously formed. The court held that the juror was competent. By the express terms of the statute of 1884 he could not be disqualified as a juror for an opinion formed or expressed upon statements in public journals, if it appeared to the court upon his declaration, under oath or otherwise, that he could and would, notwithstanding such an opinion, act impartially and fairly upon the matters submitted to him. We think that evidence, or what purports to be evidence, printed in a newspaper, is a 'statement in a public journal,' within the meaning of the statute; and that the judgment of the court upon the competency of the juror in such cases is conclusive.

The juror Winchester, who was also challenged for actual and implied bias, testified that he hadh eard of the case through the papers; that he had heard it talked of some years ago; that he believed he had heard what purported to be the evidence as given in the newspapers on previous trials, and believed he had formed and expressed an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused, and though it was an unqualified opinion, it was not a fixed or settled one; that, at the time he read the papers, he had formed such an opinion as would have required testimony to remove it from his mind, and if his memory was refreshed as to the testimony, there would probably be a renewal of the opinion he had formed; that he had not talked with any one, and could hardly tell the circumstances now; that he believed that his mind was free from any impression, and that he could sit on the jury and try the case precisely as if he had never heard of it or read of any of the facts. To inquiries of the court, the juror repeated, in substance, what he had previously said,—that he thought he could sit in the jury-box and try the case according to the evidence without reference to any opinion he may then or theretofore have formed; that he could try the defendant impartially according to the evidence, and that he would do so. The court thereupon held that he was competent, and the challenge was disallowed. This ruling disposed of the challenge, and the judgment of the court, for the reasons stated, was conclusive under the statute of March, 1884. The defendant thereupon peremptorily challenged the juror, and he was excused.

The fourth juror, Harker, who was challenged for actual and implied bias by the defendant, was examined on his voir dire disallowed; and thereupon the district attorney peremptorily challenged him, and he was excused. The challenges for implied bias fell, as there was no specification of the grounds for such challenges, as required by section 242 of the act of 1878.

In capital cases in Utah, the government and the accused are each allowed 15 peremptory challenges. Laws Utah 1884, c. 48, § 24. Notwithstanding the peremptory challenges made by the defendant to two of the jurors, he had several such challenges which had not been used when the jury was completed. If, therefore, the ruling of the court in disallowing the challenges to the two...

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