People v. O'Sullivan

Decision Date01 March 1887
Citation10 N.E. 880,104 N.Y. 481
PartiesPEOPLE v. O'SULLIVAN.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

C. H. Lewis, for appellants.

John C. Hunt, for respondent.

EARL, J.

The defendant was convicted in the Onondaga oyer and terminer of the crime of rape committed upon Abbie O'Connor, on the sixth day of May, 1884. He was a Roman Catholic priest in charge of a church at Camillus, in Onondaga county. The complainant was a domestic, working for him in the parsonage, which adjoined the church. She testified that she was at the time of the alleged crime about 17 years old; but there was other evidence, apparently more reliable, that she was about 20. Before she went to live with him she resided with her foster parents, who brought her up from infancy, and she and they were members and regular attendants at his church. She went into his service on the twenty-fifth day of January, 1884, and from that time forward his family consisted of himself, Mrs. Doehner, his housekeeper, Timothy O'Sullivan, his man-servant, and the complainant. She testified that the defendant entered her bed-room in the night-time, and there outraged her. At that time the housekeeper was in New York, and she was alone in the house with him and the man-servant. No criminal complaint was made against him until November, 1885, and he was not indicted until January, 1886.

Upon the trial, after the complainant had testified to the rape, she was permitted, against the defendant's objection, to testify that four days previously he made an attempt to ravish her, that she resisted him, and that he failed. For the reception of this evidence the court at general term, as appears by the opinion there pronounced and concurred in by a majority of the judges, reversed the conviction, holding that it was incompetent upon the trial of the defendant for the crime alleged to prove any other crime committed or attempted by him. We do not agree with the learned general term, in the view thus taken of this evidence. It is quite true that it is a general rule of law that upon the trial of a prisioner for one offense it is improper to prove that he has been guilty of other offenses; as where a prisoner is put upon trial for larceny, or burglary, or murder, it is incompetent to prove that he has been guilty of other larcenies, or burglaries, or murders, or other crimes. In this case it would have been incompetent to prove that the defendant had committed or attempted to commit a rape upon any other woman. But where a prisoner is tried for a particular crime, it is always competent to show upon the question of his guilt that he had made an attempt at some prior time, not too distant, to commit the same offense. Upon the trial of a prisoner for murder, it is competent to show that he had made previous threats or attempts to kill his victim. People v. Jones, 99 N. Y. 667, 2 N. E. Rep. 49. Upon the same principle, it must always be competent to show that one charged with rape had previously declared his intention to commit the offense, or had previously made an unsuccessful attempt to do so. In this case, if witnesses, other than the complainant, could have been called who witnessed the unsuccessful attempt of the defendant to ravish the complainant four days before the crime was in fact accomplished, no one would have questioned the competency of their evidence; and the evidence is not rendered incompetent because it comes from the complainant herself. It is not as valuable or trustworthy or important as if it had come from other witnesses. It probably did not have a very important bearing with the jury, because, unless they believed her evidence as to the principal offense, they would not believe her evidence as to the prior attempt. But it may have had some tendency to corroborate her story as to the principal offense, and thus may have had some weight with the jury. But whether it was important or not, there is no rule which condemns it, and there is abundant authority to justify its reception. Whart. Crim. Ev. 35, 46, 49; State v. Knapp, 45 N. H. 156;Strang v. People, 24 Mich. 6;Sharp v. State, 15 Tex. App. 171;Reg. v. Rearden, 4 Fost. & F. 76; Reg. v. Jones, 4 Law Rep. 154;Rex v. Chambers, 3 Cox, Crim. Cas. 92; Williams v. State, 8 Humph. 585;State v. Walters, 45 Iowa, 389;Com. v. Nichols, 114 Mass. 285;Com. v. Lahey, 14 Gray, 92;Com. v. Merriam, 14 Pick. 518;State v. Marvin, 35 N. H. 22;State v. Wallace, 9 N. H. 515;State v. Way, 5 Neb. 287;Lawson v. State, 20 Ala. 65. We do not agree, therefore, that the judgment should have been reversed on account of the reception of the evidence alluded to. But there is, at least, one other error disclosed by the record, for which, we think, the conviction ought to have been reversed.

As before stated, the alleged rape was committed in defendant's house on the sixth day of May, 1884. The complainant remained in his service from that time until the twentieth day of August following, without in any manner, by speech, action, or appearance, disclosing or intimating to any one that she had suffered this great wrong. During that time she visited her foster parents, whose place of residence was not far distant from Camillus, and saw them nearly every Sunday at church, and at defendant's house, having full and free communication with them in defendant's absence. When she left the service of the defendant, it was apparently not on account of the crime that had been committed upon her, but because he whipped her for some trifling offense. Then she went home to live with her foster parents, and remained there until the tenth day of September, and then she went to Syracuse to work in a situation procured for her at her request by the defendant; and while living there, on the twenty-eighth day of March, she disclosed to Father Moriarty, a Roman Catholic priest, at confessional, that the assault had been committed upon her; and that was the first disclosure of the crime made by her to any person.

During all the time from the sixth of May to the twenty-eighth of March, nearly 11 months, there was not a day when she could not have made a disclosure to some one. She was at perfect liberty to leave the defendant's house at any time, and she remained there of her own free will and consent. The only excuse put forth for the great delay in making the disclosure is based upon the following facts: She testified that after the assault upon her, she went voluntarily and without any solicitation of the defendant to his confessional, and confessed to him while living with him on three different occasions; and that on each occasion he asked her whether she had told anything about the assault upon her, and she replied, ‘No, Father,’ and he said, ‘God bless you, my child.’ She also testified that while she lived with him he told her it was a sin to ‘tell on a priest,’ and that if she ever ‘told on a priest’ she would go to hell or purgatory. She further testified that she did not go to confessional again until the twenty-eighth day of March, 1885, when she made the disclosure to Father Moriarty, and that she told him about it the first time she went to his confessional. It may well be that the fact that this disclosure was made at the confessional under the sanction of religion gave it additional weight with the jury. But we are of opinion that such a disclosure, made nearly 11 months after the commission of the alleged assault, was too remote to be received in evidence. There was nothing whatever to justify the delay. It is a general rule that the evidence of a witness can never be corroborated or confirmed by proof that the witness stated the same facts testified to in court on some occasion when not under oath. Such statements, like all hearsay evidence, are excluded as unsatisfactory and incompetent. But there is an exception to the rule in the case of rape. The outrage in such a case upon a virtuous female is so great that there is a natural presumption that at the first suitable opportunity she would make disclosure of it; and she would be so far discredited if she did not make the disclosure. For the purpose of confirming her evidence where she is a witness, such disclosure may be received. But where the disclosure is not recent,-as soon as suitable opportunity is furnished,-the reason for receiving it in evidence does not exist, and the principle justifying...

To continue reading

Request your trial
134 cases
  • United States v. Lovely
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Carolina
    • May 14, 1948
    ...98 N.W. 775; State v. Lewis, 1904, 112 La. 872, 36 So. 788; State v. Patrick, 1891, 107 Mo. 147, 17 S.W. 666; People v. O'Sullivan, 1887, 104 N.Y. 481, 10 N.E. 880, 58 Am.Rep. 530; Kilpatrick v. State, 1941, 71 Okl.Cr. 129, 109 P.2d 516; Cecil v. Territory, 1905, 16 Okl. 197, 82 P. 654, 8 A......
  • Battles v. State
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
    • November 30, 1910
    ...as tending to show the intent with which the assault in question was made. Williams v. State, supra. See, also, People v. O'Sullivan, 104 N. Y. 481, 10 N. E. 880, 58 Am. Rep. 530; State v. Scott, 172 Mo. 536, 72 S. W. 897; People v. Abbott, 97 Mich. 484, 56 N. W. 862, 37 Am. St. Rep. 360; S......
  • State v. Hamey
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • March 29, 1902
    ...and sense of wrong which would prompt any virtuous female to make an outcry at the first suitable opportunity.' People v. O'Sullivan, 104 N. Y. 481, 10 N. E. 880, 58 Am. Rep. 530. In 1 Hale, P. C. 632, it is said: `Complainant must make fresh discovery and pursuit of the offender, otherwise......
  • The State v. Hamey
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • March 29, 1902
    ... ... Constitution. The offense is a felony, and the constitutional ... provision applies to all felonies. Wynehamer v ... People, 13 N.Y. 426; Colon v. Lisk, 60 Am. St ... 611. (3) Nor can it be urged that though that portion of the ... statute which prescribes that the ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 books & journal articles
  • Hearsay
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive New York Objections - 2021 Contents
    • August 2, 2021
    ...horror and sense of wrong which would prompt every virtuous female to make outcry at the irst suitable opportunity.” People v. O’Sullivan, 104 N.Y. 481 (1887). Although modern research has revealed that it is common for victims of sexual assault to hesitate before making a complaint, since ......
  • Hearsay
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive New York Objections - 2014 Contents
    • August 2, 2014
    ...and sense of wrong which would prompt every virtuous female to make outcry at the first suitable opportunity.” People v. O’Sullivan, 104 N.Y. 481 (1887). Although modern research has revealed that it is common for victims of sexual assault to hesitate before making a complaint, since there ......
  • Hearsay
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books New York Objections
    • May 3, 2022
    ...and sense of wrong which would prompt every virtuous female to make outcry at the first suitable opportunity.” People v. O’Sullivan, 104 N.Y. 481, 10 N.E. 880 (1887). Although modern research has revealed that it is common for victims of sexual assault to hesitate before making a complaint,......
  • Hearsay
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive New York Objections - 2020 Contents
    • August 2, 2020
    ...horror and sense of wrong which would prompt every virtuous female to make outcry at the irst suitable opportunity.” People v. O’Sullivan, 104 N.Y. 481 (1887). Although modern research has revealed that it is common for victims of sexual assault to hesitate before making a complaint, since ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT