Smith v. State

Decision Date12 December 1916
Citation73 So. 354,72 Fla. 449
PartiesSMITH v. STATE.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Error to Circuit Court, Duval County; George Couper Gibbs, Judge.

Ruth Smith was convicted of manslaughter, and she brings error. Affirmed.

Syllabus by the Court

SYLLABUS

It is the declared policy of the Legislature, as well as of this court, to uphold indictments and informations whenever there has been a substantial compliance therein with the statutory requirements.

Defects in indictments and informations should be called to the attention of the trial court by a motion to quash or a demurrer, so that the defects, if any, may be corrected by the filing of another indictment or information. Neither the common law nor our statutes favor the policy of the defendant in waiting until the last stage of the cause and attacking such defects by a motion in arrest of judgment, the granting of which would have the effect of unraveling the whole proceedings.

While the sufficiency of the allegations in an indictment to charge the offense may be tested by a motion in arrest of judgment yet upon this motion the indictment should receive a liberal construction, and even an informal or imperfect allegation of an essential fact will be deemed a sufficient averment of that fact. A defective allegation not affecting the real merits, or a merely formal or clerical error, or an allegation of unnecessary matter nor concerning the substance of the charge, would not be ground for arresting the judgment.

Where an indictment does not wholly fail to allege a crime or an essential element of a crime, and sufficiently states the nature and cause of the accusation against the defendant, and is not so vague, indistinct, and indefinite as to mislead the accused and embarrass him in the preparation of his defense or expose him after conviction or acquittal to substantial danger of a new prosecution for the same offense, such indictment will not on a motion in arrest of judgment after verdict be held legally insufficient to sustain a conviction.

An indictment that alleges that 'Ruth Smith, late of the county of Duval and state of Florida, on the 21st day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and sixteen, in the county and state aforesaid, feloniously willfully, and of her malice aforethought, and from a premeditated design to effect the death of J. H. Goudy, in and upon the said J. H. Goudy did make an assault, and that the said Ruth Smith, with a certain knife which she, the said Ruth Smith, then and there held in her hands, feloniously willfully, and of her malice aforethought, and from a premeditated design to effect the death of the said J. H. Goudy, the said Ruth Smith, with the knife aforesaid, did strike, cut, stab, and wound, giving to the said J. H. Goudy then and there with the knife aforesaid in and upon the body of the said J. H. Goudy one mortal wound, the length and breadth of which mortal wound is to the grand jury unknown, of which mortal wound the said J. H. Goudy died,' sufficiently charges the crime of murder in the first degree against the said Ruth Smith, and is not obnoxious to the criticism that it charges the defendant with having killed herself.

Every presumption is in favor of the correctness of the rulings of the trial court, and the burden is cast upon the party resorting to an appellate court to overcome this presumption and make the errors in the rulings of which he complains clearly to appear.

An indictment will not be held fatally defective, especially upon a motion in arrest of judgment, because 'it fails to charge that the deceased died within a year and a day after the infliction of the mortal wound.' While the safer and better practice for the pleader in drafting the indictment would have been to have followed the approved form by alleging 'of which mortal wound the said J. H. Goudy then and there died,' the omission of the words 'then and there' may not render the indictment fatally defective, upon a motion in arrest of judgment.

COUNSEL P. L. Gaskins, Frank Wideman and J. E. Yonge, all of Jacksonville, for plaintiff in error.

T. F. West, Atty. Gen., and C. O. Andrews, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the State.

OPINION

SHACKLEFORD J.

The following indictment was returned against Ruth Smith:

'In the Name and by the Authority of the State of Florida:
'The grand jurors of the state of Florida, impaneled and sworn to inquire and true presentment make in and for the body of the county of Duval, upon their oath do present that Ruth Smith, late of the county of Duval and state of Florida, on the 21st day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and sixteen, in the county and state aforesaid, feloniously, willfully, and of her malice aforethought, and from a premeditated design to effect the death of J. H. Goudy, in and upon the said J. H. Goudy did make an assault, and that the said Ruth Smith, with a certain knife which she, the said Ruth Smith, then and there held in her hands, feloniously, willfully, and of her malice aforethought, and from a premeditated design to effect the death of the said J. H. Goudy, the said Ruth Smith, with the knife aforesaid, did strike, cut, stab, and wound, giving to the said J. H. Goudy then and there with the knife aforesaid in and upon the body of the said J. H. Goudy one mortal wound, the length and breadth of which mortal wound is to the grand jury unknown, of which mortal wound the said J. H. Goudy died, and so the grand jurors aforesaid do say that the said Ruth Smith in manner and form aforesaid feloniously, willfully, and of her malice aforethought, and from a premeditated design to effect the death of the said J. H. Goudy, the said J. H. Goudy did kill and murder contrary to the form of the statute in such cases made and provided and against the peace and dignity of the state of Florida.

Frank L. Dancy,

'State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit of Florida, Prosecuting for Said State.'

The defendant pleaded not guilty, and was tried before a jury and convicted of the crime of manslaughter. Whereupon the defendant filed the following motion in arrest of judgment:

'And now, after verdict against said defendant, Ruth Smith, in the above-entitled cause, and before sentence, comes the said Ruth Smith by her attorneys, P. L. Gaskins, Frank Wideman, and J. E. Yonge, and moves the court here to arrest judgment herein, and not to pronounce the same, because of manifest errors in the record appearing as follows, to wit:

'(1) That the indictment upon which the verdict herein has been rendered states or alleges no crime under the laws of the state of Florida.

'(2) That the indictment upon which the verdict herein has been rendered does not charge the defendant herein with the commission of any crime or the violation of any law or of any unlawful act under the statutes or laws of the state of Florida.

'(3) That the indictment upon which the verdict herein has been rendered does not allege that the defendant struck, cut, stabbed, or wounded the deceased named in said indictment.

'(4) That the indictment upon which the verdict herein has been rendered alleges and shows on its face that the defendant struck, cut, stabbed, and wounded herself, the said defendant, and not the deceased person named in said indictment.

'(5) That the indictment upon which the verdict herein has been rendered fails to allege that the deceased person named in said indictment died in the county of Duval, state of Florida.

'(6) That the indictment upon which the verdict herein has been rendered failed to allege the place where the deceased person, J. H. Goudy, died.

'(7) That the indictment upon which the verdict herein has been rendered fails to allege the time when the deceased person, J. H. Goudy, died.

'(8) That the indictment upon which the verdict herein has been rendered fails to allege that the deceased person, J. H. Goudy, died within the period of one year and one day next after the infliction by the defendant upon the said deceased person of the mortal wound described and referred to in said indictment.

'(9) That there are other manifest errors apparent of record in the indictment upon which the verdict herein has been rendered.

'(10) That there are many other manifest errors in the record in this cause on account of which no judgment against the said defendant can be lawfully rendered herein.'

This motion was overruled, upon which ruling is based the sole assignment of error argued before us. There is no bill of exceptions incorporated in the transcript, and the evidence adduced at the trial is not before us. It is contended by the defendant that the indictment is fatally defective in two particulars, which are stated in the brief as follows:

'First that the indictment is drawn so as to charge that the defendant struck and cut herself; second, that the indictment...

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  • Sawyer v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • June 29, 1927
    ...the whole proceeding. This rule would apply with still greater force to motions made after the term to vacate judgments. See Smith v. State, 72 Fla. 449, 73 So. 354; Barineau v. State, 71 Fla. 598, 72 So. Adams v. State, 72 Fla. 32, 72 So. 473; Clifton v. State, 76 Fla. 244, 79 So. 707. Whi......
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