Sinclair v. State

Decision Date16 February 1931
Docket Number28673
Citation161 Miss. 142,132 So. 581
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

(In Banc.)

1. CRIMINAL LAW. District attorney's deliberate and solemn admission, during trial, of material fact in accused's favor, binds state.

A deliberate and solemn admission by the district attorney during the progress of a criminal trial, of a material fact in favor of the defendant, is binding on the state.

2. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW. Homicide. Statutes providing insanity shall be no defense to murder indictment held violative of due process clause (Code 1930, sections 1327, 1328; Constitution 1890, section 14).

Chapter 75, Laws 1928, sections 1327, 1328, Code 1930, enacting that "the insanity of the defendant at the time of the commission of the crime shall not be a defense against indictments for murder," is in contravention of section 14, Constitution 1890, which ordains that, "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property except by due process of law."

SMITH C. J., dissenting.


APPEAL from circuit court of Pike county, HON. E. J. SIMMONS, Judge.

Frank Sinclair was convicted of murder committed while he was insane, and he appeals. Reversed, and defendant discharged.

Reversed, and appellant discharged.

M. S McNeil, of Hazelhurst, for appellant.

Chapter 75 of the Laws of 1928 is in conflict with article 14 of the amendment to the constitution of the United States, and is also in conflict with sections 14, 26, 28 and 31 of the constitution of Mississippi.

No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, except by due process of law.

Section 14 of the constitution of Mississippi.

Cruel and unusual punishment shall not be inflicted, nor excessive fines be imposed.

Section 28 of the constitution of Mississippi.

At common law an insane person, idiot or lunatic is wholly incapable of committing crime. To make a crime completely cognizable by human laws there must be both a will and an act.

In criminal cases idiots and lunatics are not chargeable for their own acts, if committed when under these incapacities, no, not even for treason itself.

4 Hammond Blackstone, chapter 2, sections 24 and 25; Freeman v. People (N. Y.), 47 Am. Dec. 219; State v. Marles, 36 Am. Dec. 402, and note; State ex rel. Mackintosh v. Superior Court, 45 Wash. 255; Broome's Legal Maxims (8 Ed.), 14; State v. Jones, 50 N.H. 369, 9 Am. Rep. 242.

In the light of legal history in all of the civilized nations of the world it is almost impossible to believe that a legislature at this advanced age would pass a law to the effect that insanity shall no longer be a defense to the charge of crime. How this act passed both the Houses of the legislature and was approved by the governor of the state, who was so prone to veto acts of the present legislature on constitutional grounds, is a mystery to the legal fraternity of Mississippi.

It takes two elements to constitute a complete crime-- intent and an overt act. It is only the sane who can wilfully act. The insane may act, but the act can never be wilful, unlawful and with malice aforethought.

Taylor v. State, 74 Miss. 544; Hemingway's Code of 1927, section 1006.

If it is necessary to allege that the act was committed with malice aforethought, or equivalent words, then would it not be necessary to prove malice aforethought, or equivalent words, as set out in the indictment? Was it the intention of the legislature in the passage of this act to create some new form of murder, unknown to all mankind in civilized countries? A murder committed without malice--without wilful intent? If so, it strikes me forcibly that section 1006 of the Hemingway Code has been repealed and that we now have in Mississippi a new form of murder--the killing of a human being by another human being, without malice, without wilful intent, actuated by no motives or purpose.

The only other time in the history of American jurisprudence that this question has ever arisen was in the state of Washington, and in that case the supreme court of the state of Washington held that an attempt to deprive one accused of crime of the defense of insanity is ineffectual, under the constitutional provisions, guaranteeing due process of law and right of trial by jury.

State of Washington v. Strasburg, 32 L. R. A. (N. S.), 1216; Smoot on Law of Insanity, chapter 14, section 448.

The provision of the 28th section of the Declarations of Rights, "that the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate" secures the right of a jury trial, in all cases, in the trial of which a jury was necessary, according to the principles of the common law.

Dudley Isom v. Miss. Cent. R. R. Co., 36 George's Report, 300.

Under section 26 of the constitution of Mississippi the accused shall have the right to be heard by himself or counsel, or both to demand the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted by the witnesses against him, etc. The right to appear with the use, not only of his mental, but also of his physical faculties, unfettered, and unless some impelling necessity demands the restraint of a prisoner to secure the safety of others, and his own custody, the binding of the prisoner in chains is a plain violation of the constitutional guaranty. If a prisoner, with his hands and feet manacled cannot have a fair trial within the meaning of the constitution, how can it be contended that he can have such fair trial when his mind is fettered?

There is only one question raised in the briefs filed by the appellee which we desire to answer. This question is raised by the attorney-general, to the effect that the judgment entered by the court below was an agreed judgment and that it amounts to a plea of guilty, from which no appeal can be taken. It is further contended that the supreme court is without jurisdiction, and that either the appeal should be dismissed or the case should be affirmed, without this court passing upon the constitutionality of the statute involved.

It has never been our understanding of the law that a defendant can enter a plea of guilty to a felony by his attorney; but counsel evidently misconceived just what was done in the case at bar. The defendant, Frank Sinclair, having been arraigned and the indictment read to him, as shown from the record, stood mute, and the court, as he should have done, thereupon caused a plea of not guilty to be entered for him. So he was tried before a jury on the indictment and upon a plea of not guilty.

It is our contention that under the verdict of the jury the defendant was acquitted of the crime of murder, because of his insanity at the time of the commission of the act. This is certainly true if the court should hold chapter 75 of the Laws of Mississippi, 1928, to be unconstitutional.

J. W. Cassedy, Jr., of Brookhaven, for appellant.

Chapter 75, Laws 1928, is in conflict with section 90 of the constitution of the state of Mississippi; is in conflict with section 61 of the constitution of Mississippi; and also in conflict with article six of the amendments to the constitution of the United States.

Chapter 75 of the Laws of 1928, provides a penalty for the act of an insane person who commits murder when we have no law in our state which provides that the act of an insane person in committing murder is a crime. Stated shortly, it provides a penalty and a punishment for an act which is not a crime.

12 C. J., p. 1202, sec. 970.

If I am mistaken in this argument, then it certainly must be true that chapter 75 of the Laws of 1928 does make it a crime for an insane person to commit murder. Either one or the other must be true and if this act does make it a crime for an insane person to commit murder, then it shows that it is an amendment to section 1006 of Hemingway's Code of 1927, which creates and defines the crime of murder. If this statute does so amend the law, defining murder, then I submit that it is unconstitutional, for the reason that it is in conflict with section 61 of the Constitution of Mississippi.

An insane person is incapable of acting with criminal intent and cannot be held criminally responsible for his act.

Howie v. State, 83 So. 158; Hawie v. Hawie, 91 So. 131; Grisson v. State, 62 Miss. 167; Smith v. State, 49 So. 945; Cunningham v. State, 56 Miss. 269; Kearney v. State, 8 So. 292; Ford v. State, 19 So. 665; Nelson v. State, 92 So. 66; 16 C. J. 198, sec. 71.

Chapter 75 of the Laws of 1928 refers only to the crime of murder and applies only to the defense of insanity to insane persons. It may have been the intention of the legislature to pass a law preventing the abuse of the defense of insanity by persons who were not insane, but in so far as the act itself is concerned, it only applies to insane persons.

A statute making certain acts criminal only when committed by certain persons or classes of persons is valid where the classification has a reasonable basis, but void where such classification is purely arbitrary or unreasonable.

12 C. J., p. 1128, sec. 855; 12. C. J., p. 1202, sec. 971.

Section 2 of chapter 75 of the Laws of 1928 is without question unconstitutional in that it denies to a person due process of law and is in conflict with article 14 of the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States and section 14 of the Constitution of Mississippi.

Underwood v. People, 32 Mich. 1, 20 Am. Rep. 633.

Forrest B. Jackson, Assistant Attorney-General, for the state.

Agreed verdict and judgment of guilty bars appeal.

Sec. 12 of Hemingway's 1927 Code, chapter 151, Laws of Mississippi, 1914; Hirsh Bros. & Co. v. R. E. Kennington Co., 124 So. 344; Bogle v. State, 125 So. 99; Scruggs v. State, 130 Miss. 49, 93 So. 482; Sec 1238, Hemingway's 1917 Code; Sec. 1301, Hemingway's 1927...

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35 cases
  • State v. Searcy
    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • September 5, 1990
    ...Therefore, I do not believe that the rationale of the Strasburg holding may be interpreted as need for mens rea alone. Sinclair v. State, 161 Miss. 142, 132 So. 581 (1931), also speaks of insanity in terms broader than mere Insanity to the extent that the reason is totally destroyed so as t......
  • Windham v. State
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    ...and have found that fundamental. Out of this these once saw the insanity defense constitutionally compelled. Sinclair v. State, 161 Miss. 142, 153-54, 132 So. 581, 582 (1931). We think mens rea the core of criminality and certainly of murder, 1 see, e.g., Welch v. State, 566 So.2d 680, 684-......
  • State v. Herrera
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    ...because they abolished the insanity defense completely. State v. Lange, 168 La. 958, 123 So. 639 (1929); Sinclair v. State, 161 Miss. 142, 132 So. 581 (1931); State v. Strasburg, 60 Wash. 106, 110 P. 1020 (1910). These cases are distinguishable because they involved "statutes which preclude......
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