McGuire v. People

Decision Date06 October 1880
Citation6 N.W. 669,44 Mich. 286
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Testimony of a child, a few months over six years old, identifying defendant as one engaged in a robbery, held properly admitted, and the jury properly cautioned in acting upon the same. Certain testimony as to an account of the robbery given by the defendant, held proper.

Error to superior court of Grand Rapids.

McBride & Carroll and E.A. Eggleston, for plaintiff.

Otto Kirchner, Att'y Gen., for the People.


McGuire was convicted before the superior court of Grand Rapids of robbery, while armed with a dangerous weapon, committed on one Albertus Meyer. Meyer testified positively to the robbery on the night of November 17, 1879, while he was walking home with his little boy. He was approached from behind, gagged and thrown down, and his money stolen. He could not recognize the two men who robbed him before they ran out of sight, but the boy recognized McGuire and identified him. The most important evidence, therefore, was that of the child, who was a few months over six years old. An exception was taken to the examination of this boy, on account of his extreme youth and the judge who tried the cause had some hesitation about it. He, however, took the lad into his own room and had a long conference with him, in addition to what appeared in court, and he finally came to the conclusion that the child was sufficiently conscious of the duty of speaking the truth that he might be received as a witness, subject to such cautions to the jury as were proper concerning his statements.

We held in Washburn v. People, 10 Mich. 372, that the reception of such testimony was permissible where the judge was satisfied. We think that in the present case the course taken was such as to justify the judge in doing as he did. The boy was the only witness who could recognize the prisoner, and it was therefore important to receive him if there was any sound reason to believe he could give reliable information. There is, of course, some danger that a child of tender years may be influenced to tell what is not true. But the inability of such an inexperienced boy to keep up a consistent false story through the various questionings of a trial is a pretty safe guard against any great danger on that head. He is far more likely to answer wrongly from not fully understanding questions put to him, than from deliberate falsehood. His method of telling his story here was simple and childlike, and, so far as we can tell from a paper description of it, was candid and honest. At any rate, the jury must have thought so, and we are not surprised that they did. The judge cautioned the jury fully and clearly on the necessity of sifting his testimony very thoroughly. He could not well have been more explicit. We cannot think the danger of receiving such a witness is any greater than that of rejecting him. On the cross-examination in answer to some questions concerning his recognition of the respondent at the police station, he was asked whether his father had not told him respondent was the man, and answered in the affirmative to this and one or two similar questions about the recognition; and, while the questions were not quite broad enough to exclude any other...

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