People v. Millard

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Writing for the CourtCAMPBELL
Citation18 N.W. 562,53 Mich. 63
PartiesPEOPLE v. MILLARD.
Decision Date06 March 1884

53 Mich. 63
18 N.W. 562

PEOPLE
v.
MILLARD.

Supreme Court of Michigan.

Filed March 6, 1884.


In homicide cases particularly should the rule be observed of not allowing any evidence of the motive until the testimony concerning the corpus delicti has been completed.

Considerable evidence as to the acts of the accused between the death and burial of his wife, and of the acts of others about that time, was improperly rejected.

In every criminal case the burden throughout is upon the prosecution, and whatever course the defendant takes to explain suspicious facts, the prosecution must show under all circumstances, as part of their own case, that there is no theory of innocence possible which will, without violation of reason, accord with the facts.

Where the symptoms in the last illness become controlling facts in determining whether death was from disease or poison, the charge is not made out unless the prosecution negative everything but poison as the cause of death.

Where, owing to the insufficient character of the direct evidence, the experts become the witnesses on whose testimony the whole case rests, any error in admitting expert opinion becomes a fatal error.

The testimony of experts on assumed facts not submitted to them for their opinion, but culled by themselves from what they heard on the trial, and with which they had no right to meddle for themselves, is not competent.

No one has any title to respect as an expert, or has any right to give an opinion on the stand, unless as his own opinion, if he has not given the subject careful and discriminating study; and it is error to admit reference to writers and books so as to invoke their authority; it is no more than hearsay evidence.

Error to Ionia.

[18 N.W. 562]

J.J. Van Riper, for plaintiff.

Morse, Wilson & Trowbridge and A.A. Ellis, for defendant and appellant.


CAMPBELL, J.

Respondent was convicted in Ionia county of the murder of his wife by poison, on May 9, 1882. The information sets out that the death was caused by a series of acts of administering arsenic with her medicine, beginning April 25, 1882, and continuing till her death. The body was taken up by the coroner on the twenty-second day of August thereafter, when a partial examination was had by local physicians, and the stomach and part of the rectum were removed and placed in one jar, and part of the liver and of one kidney placed in another jar, and these jars sent to Dr. Prescott, at the university, to be analyzed. He made an analysis in two different parcels of portions of the contents of each jar, making a single analysis of part of the stomach and rectum, and a separate one of part of the liver and kidney, but not taking any one organ by itself. On a subsequent occasion he made another examination of the brain, and of parts of the muscles of the calf of each leg. He found no trace of arsenic in the brain or calf. In each of the other analyses he found considerable quantities, estimated at from six to fifteen grains in the entire liver and one kidney, and fifteen grains in the stomach and rectum.

Upon the trial, the testimony whereby it was sought to prove the death by arsenic, and the responsibility of respondent for causing it, was all circumstantial. It involved inquiries into the question whether the arsenic discovered was the real cause of the death as introduced into the body during life, and feloniously, and into the symptoms of the illness of deceased as those of disease or of poisoning by arsenic. Beyond this it covered testimony of the conduct of respondent, and some relations allowed to be gone into on the question of motive.

Upon the argument in this court we called upon the counsel for the people to sustain the rulings complained of by the assignments of error, and, being satisfied that the rulings were not in conformity with previous decisions of the court, we dispensed with any full oral argument for the respondent beyond his brief. We do not propose to consider the minor questions of error, so far as they are not likely to involve difficulties hereafter. The jury

[18 N.W. 563]

lists will not probably be defective in the future, or defective in the same alleged way. Neither is it likely that further witnesses will be admitted hereafter of whose names and residences respondent has had no sufficient notice. And most questions of the order of proof can be disposed of in a general reference, without taking up all of the assignments singly.

In the case of People v. Hall, 48 Mich. 482, [S.C.12 N.W.REP. 665,] we had occasion to remark upon the necessity, in homicide cases particularly, of keeping closely to the established rules, and of allowing no evidence of motive, and no other testimony beyond the main issue of the crime itself, until the testimony concerning the corpus delicti has been completed. In the present case, while there was some departure from this order in other respects, the most important was in allowing testimony concerning illicit relations between respondent and a woman who had once lived in the neighborhood at a period considerably earlier than the wife's sickness, to be shown, not only before the other testimony was all in, but without any proof of such relations at about the time of the alleged crime. This was done, it is true, on the promise that the relations should be shown to have been continued. This, however, was not shown, and the subsequent testimony allowed to come in on this subject not only had no tendency to prove it, but rather the reverse. All the legitimate evidence concerning respondent's domestic relations indicated entire harmony between husband and wife. The court refused to strike out this improper testimony, and laid stress upon it to some degree in the charge. Such testimony, if received, has a manifest tendency, as it must have been designed, to produce a disposition in the jury to lean against the respondent, and to put an unfavorable construction upon his acts. As suggested in People v. Hall, there is no possible reason for allowing such testimony to be put in out of its order. The prosecution, under our system of criminal practice, is bound to proceed against no one without having in advance the testimony on which a conviction is to be sought; and while in a civil case it may be sometimes allowable to receive testimony on a pledge that it will be made admissible by future evidence, it never should be done, even there, if it is likely to be seriously prejudicial. A jury cannot readily dismiss from the mind, so that it will leave no trace, testimony that blackens character or impugns motives. In a criminal case the prosecution should be allowed no such latitude. The mischief is effected when the testimony comes in, and gives color to all the subsequent views of the jury, so that they look suspiciously upon all that is said or done by the respondent which is open to any consideration of motive.

It was, we think, improper to exclude evidences of the transactions in the house between the death and burial. They were important in the inquiry concerning the use of antiseptics, which was then known to be material. A similar principle applies to the dealings and transactions concerning the employment and understanding as to Drs. Ray and Epply. It was error to exclude the evidence as to the contents of the page of the book shown by Mrs. Wortman to respondent. It was the same as if she had read or spoken the same words. It was also error to shut out the impeaching evidence concerning Mrs. Wortman's attempt and failure to get employed in respondent's house after the death of his wife. It bore on her motives, and to some extent was contradictory of her testimony as believing in his guilt. Geary v. People, 22 Mich. 220;Hamilton v. People, 29 Mich. 173.

But the more important questions, inasmuch as they are inseparable from the main issues in the case, arise upon the course of testimony depending on the opinions of scientific witnesses, and upon the burden of proof, on which we think there was fatal error. Several of the difficulties presented on the record must have arisen from a failure to appreciate the decision in the case of People v. Hall, and other cases involving similar inquiries. These matters can be more satisfactorily dealt with together, so far as they resemble

[18 N.W. 564]

each other in principle. To explain them it will be necessary to recall the precise character of the controversy. The analysis having revealed the presence of arsenic in such quantities that if administered during life it would have been sufficient to produce death, and the fact that it was so found not being of itself indicative of where or how it was introduced into the substances delivered to Dr. Prescott to be analyzed, there were two lines of inquiry connected with this particular question. One was whether the position and proportions of the arsenic...

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22 practice notes
  • Dean v. State, 31454
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • May 27, 1935
    ...in this case fails to prove the defendant guilty beyond every reasonable doubt. State v. Sullivan, 17 A.L.R. 905; People v. Millard, 18 N.W. 562; Page v. State, 151 Miss. 151; Vaughn v. State, 19 Ala. 511, 993 So. 256; Davenport v. State, 144 Miss. 275; Hunt v. State, 108 Miss. 588; 16 C. J......
  • Dean v. State, 31454
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • April 8, 1935
    ...in this case fails to prove the defendant guilty beyond every reasonable doubt. State v. Sullivan, 17 A. L. R. 905; People v. Millard, 18 N.W. 562; Page v. State, 151 Miss. 151; Vaughn v. State, 19 Ala. 511, 993 So. 256; Davenport v. State, 144 Miss. 275; Hunt v. State, 108 Miss. 588; 16 C.......
  • People v. Wolfe, Docket No. 90730
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • August 31, 1992
    ...Court was [441 Mich. 534] that there was insufficient evidence connecting him to the cocaine and the weapon. Relying on People v. Millard, 53 Mich. 63, Page 760 70, 18 N.W. 562 (1884), the defendant asserted that the prosecution's "case was not only circumstantial and weak, it was too weak ......
  • Jones v. Bloom, No. 11
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • August 30, 1972
    ...cases discussion as to whether the reasoning should apply in such situation. The next case dealing with this issue was People v. Millard, 53 Mich. 63, 18 N.W. 562 (1884). The Court, in excluding excerpts from medical books, pointed out that [388 Mich. 106] these excerpts were introduced on ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • Dean v. State, 31454
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • May 27, 1935
    ...in this case fails to prove the defendant guilty beyond every reasonable doubt. State v. Sullivan, 17 A.L.R. 905; People v. Millard, 18 N.W. 562; Page v. State, 151 Miss. 151; Vaughn v. State, 19 Ala. 511, 993 So. 256; Davenport v. State, 144 Miss. 275; Hunt v. State, 108 Miss. 588; 16 C. J......
  • Dean v. State, 31454
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • April 8, 1935
    ...in this case fails to prove the defendant guilty beyond every reasonable doubt. State v. Sullivan, 17 A. L. R. 905; People v. Millard, 18 N.W. 562; Page v. State, 151 Miss. 151; Vaughn v. State, 19 Ala. 511, 993 So. 256; Davenport v. State, 144 Miss. 275; Hunt v. State, 108 Miss. 588; 16 C.......
  • People v. Wolfe, Docket No. 90730
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • August 31, 1992
    ...Court was [441 Mich. 534] that there was insufficient evidence connecting him to the cocaine and the weapon. Relying on People v. Millard, 53 Mich. 63, Page 760 70, 18 N.W. 562 (1884), the defendant asserted that the prosecution's "case was not only circumstantial and weak, it was too weak ......
  • Jones v. Bloom, No. 11
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • August 30, 1972
    ...cases discussion as to whether the reasoning should apply in such situation. The next case dealing with this issue was People v. Millard, 53 Mich. 63, 18 N.W. 562 (1884). The Court, in excluding excerpts from medical books, pointed out that [388 Mich. 106] these excerpts were introduced on ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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