Snyder v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Decision Date08 January 1934
Docket NumberNo. 241,241
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 97-98 intentionally omitted] Messrs. A. C. Webber and Henry P. Fielding, both of Boston, Mass., for petitioner.

[Argument of counsel from pages 98-102 intentionally omitted] Mr. Joseph E. Warner, of Boston, Mass., for the Commonwealth of massachusetts.

Mr. Justice CARDOZO delivered the opinion of the Court.

On April 9, 1931, James M. Kiley was shot to death at a gasoline station at Somerville, Mass. Three men, Garrick, Donnellon, and the petitioner, Snyder, joined in the murder and in the attempted robbery that led to it. Garrick confessed to his part in the crime and became a witness for the state. Donnellon and Snyder were tried together, and sentenced to be put to death. The jury found upon abundant evidence that the guilt of each had been established beyond a reasonable doubt. At the trial and on appeal Snyder made the claim that through the refusal of the trial judge to permit him to be present at a view there had been a denial of due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the conviction. 185 N.E. 376. A writ of certiorari brings the case here.

At the opening of the trial there was a motion by the commonwealth that the jury be directed to view the scene of the crime. This motion was granted. In granting it the court acted under a Massachusetts statute which provides: 'The court may order a view by a jury impanelled to try a criminal case.' General Laws (Ter. Ed.) of Massachusetts, c. 234, § 35. The court appointed counsel for Donnellon and for Snyder to represent their respective clients at the place to be viewed. Counsel for Donnellon moved that he be permitted to go there with his client after the view, but did not ask that his client be present with the jury. The court stated that such an order would probably be made. Counsel for Snyder moved that his client be permitted to view the scene with the jury, invoking the protection of the Federal Constitution. This motion was denied. The jurors were then placed in charge of bailiffs duly sworn. Accompanied by these bailiffs and also by the judge, the court stenographer, the district attorney, and the counsel for the defendants, they went forth to make their view.

The first stopping place was at the filling station, 13 Somerville avenue. Entering the station, the district attorney pointed out to the jurors the particular parts of the building that he wished them to observe. He asked them to note the window at the rear, its position with reference to the entrance, the position of other windows to the right, the size of the room, the angle made by a partition, and the location of other objects. Counsel for Snyder called attention to the view from within the building looking out, and to the condition of the floor. Leaving the station by the front door, the jury viewed the building from the other side of the street. The district attorney asked that note be made of the driveway to the right and left of the station, the three pumps in front, and also the width of the street. Counsel for Snyder called attention to the nature of the travel, the setback of the station from the roadway, and in particular the possibility of observing from without what was taking place within. After the visit to the station, the jurors were taken a short distance away where they were asked to make note of the layout of the streets. They then went back to the station; the district attorney saying that he had omitted to direct their attention to the lights. The lights were then observed, the dimensions of a fence in front of them, and also, once more, the gasoline pumps. The district attorney stated that the middle pump was not there at the time of the homicide. Counsel for the petitioner answered that he had no knowledge on the subject, but would accept his adversary's statement. Thereupon the judge, who had guided the proceeding, stated the agreement to the jurors assembled on the walk. 'It is agreed,' he said, 'that at the time of the offense, that is, on April 9, 1931, there were but two pumps in front of the gasoline station, the one on the extreme right that is painted green, and the one on the extreme left that is painted black. Those two were there. The one in the middle, with the blue striping on it, was not there.'

After the completion of the view, the group returned to the courthouse and the trial went on. In charging the jury the judge said, 'Now what have you before you on which to form your judgment and to render your finding and your verdict? The view, the testimony given by the witnesses and the exhibits comprise the evidence that is before you.' The question in this court is whether a view in the absence of a defendant who has made demand that he be present is a denial of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The commonwealth of Massachusetts is free to regulate the procedure of its courts in accordance with its own conception of policy and fairness, unless in so doing it offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental. Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U.S. 78, 106, 111, 112, 29 S.Ct. 14, 53 L.Ed. 97; Rogers v. Peck, 199 U.S. 425, 434, 26 S.Ct. 87, 50 L.Ed. 256; Maxwell v. Dow, 176 U.S. 581, 604, 20 S.Ct. 494, 44 L.Ed. 597; Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516, 4 S.Ct. 111, 292, 28 L.Ed. 232; Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 326, 35 S.Ct. 582, 59 L.Ed. 969; Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 67, 53 S.Ct. 55, 77 L.Ed. 158, 84 A.L.R. 527. Its procedure does not run foul of the Fourteenth Amendment because another method may seem to our thinking to be fairer or wiser or to give a surer promise of protection to the prisoner at the bar. Consistently with that amendment, trial by jury may be abolished. Walker v. Sauvinet, 92 U.S. 90, 23 L.Ed. 678; Maxwell v. Dow, supra; N.Y. Central R. Co. v. White, 243 U.S. 188, 208, 37 S.Ct. 247, 6 L.Ed. 667, L.R.A. 1917D, 1, Ann. Cas. 1917D, 629; Wagner Electric Mfg. Co. v. Lyndon, 262 U.S. 226, 232, 43 S.Ct. 589, 67 L.Ed. 961. Indictments by a grand jury may give way to informations by a public officer. Hurtado v. California, supra; Gaines v. Washington, 277 U.S. 81, 86, 48 S.Ct. 468, 72 L.Ed. 793. The privilege against self-incrimination may be withdrawn and the accused put upon the stand as a witness for the state. Twining v. New Jersey, supra. What may not be taken away is notice of the charge and an adequate opportunity to be heard in defense of it. Twining v. New Jersey, supra; Powell v. Alabama, supra, pages 68, 71 of 287 U.S., 53 S.Ct. 55, 77 L.Ed. 158, 84 A.L.R. 527; Holmes v. Conway, 241 U.S. 624, 36 S.Ct. 681, 60 L.Ed. 1211; Cf. Blackmer v. United States, 284 U.S. 421, 440, 52 S.Ct. 252, 76 L.Ed. 375.

We assume in aid of the petitioner that in a prosecution for a felony the defendant has the privilege under the Fourteenth Amendment to be present in his own person whenever his presence has a relation, reasonably substantial, to the fullness of his opportunity to defend against the charge. Thus, the privilege to confront one's accusers and cross-examine them face to face is assured to a defendant by the Sixth Amendment in prosecutions in the federal courts (Gaines v. Washington, supra, at page 85 of 277 U.S., 48 S.Ct. 468, 72 L.Ed. 793), and in prosecutions in the state courts is assured very often by the Constitutions of the states. For present purposes we assume that the privilege is reinforced by the Fourteenth Amendment, though this has not been squarely held. Cf. Schwab v. Berggren, 143 U.S. 442, 448, 450, 12 S.Ct. 525, 36 L.Ed. 218; West v. Louisiana, 194 U.S. 258, 24 S.Ct. 650, 48 L.Ed. 965; Diaz v. United States, 223 U.S. 442, 455, 32 S.Ct. 250, 56 L.Ed. 500, Ann. Cas. 1913C, 1138; Blackmer v. United States, supra. Hopt v. Utah, 110 U.S. 574, 4 S.Ct. 202, 28 L.Ed. 262, has been distinguished and limited. Frank v. Mangum, supra, pages 340, 341 of 237 U.S., 35 S.Ct. 582, 59 L.Ed. 969. Cf. Patton v. United States, 281 U.S. 276, 50 S.Ct. 253, 74 L.Ed. 854, 70 A.L.R. 263. Again, defense may be made easier if the accused is permitted to be present at the examination of jurors or the summing up of counsel, for it will be in his power, if present, to give advice or suggestion or even to supersede his lawyers altogether and conduct the trial himself. See Lewis v. United States, 146 U.S. 370, 13 S.Ct. 136, 36 L.Ed. 1011, a prosecution in the federal courts In such circumstances also we make a like assumption as to the scope of the privilege created by the Federal Constitution. Diaz v. United States, supra. No doubt the privilege may be lost by consent or at times even by misconduct. Diaz v. United States, supra. Cf. Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, Digest of the Law of Criminal Procedure, art. 302. Our concern is with its extension when unmodified by waiver, either actual or imputed.

In all the cases thus assumed the presence of the defendant satisfied the test that was put forward a moment ago as basic and decisive. It bears, or may fairly be assumed to bear, a relation, reasonably substantial, to his opportunity to defend. Nowhere in the decisions of this court is there a dictum, and still less a ruling, that the Fourteenth Amendment assures the privilege of presence when presence would be useless, or the benefit but a shadow. What has been said, if not decided, is distinctly to the contrary. Howard v. Kentucky, 200 U.S. 164, 175, 26 S.Ct. 189, 50 L.Ed. 421; Valdez v. United States, 244 U.S. 432, 445, 37 S.Ct. 725, 728, 61 L.Ed. 1242. Cf. Frank v. Mangum, supra, and particularly the dissenting opinion at page 346 of 237 U.S., 35 S.Ct. 582, 59 L.Ed. 969. The underlying principle gains point and precision from the distinction everywhere drawn between proceedings at the trial and those before and after....

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