Snyder v. People

Decision Date07 November 1872
Citation26 Mich. 106
CourtMichigan Supreme Court
PartiesWilliam L. Snyder v. The People

Heard October 10, 1872

Error to Van Buren circuit.

Judgment reversed, and a new trial ordered.

Newton Foster and L. A. Tabor, for plaintiff in error.

Dwight May, Attorney General, for the People.


Cooley J.:

The plaintiff in error was informed against for arson which is charged to consist in the felonious burning, in the night time, of the dwelling-house of Mary A. Snyder. On the trial it appeared that Mary A. Snyder was his wife, and defendant (below) insisted that he could not be guilty of arson in burning her house. He also claimed to be the owner of the house, in fact, and this claim was submitted to the jury, who found against him. The prosecution, on the other hand, gave some evidence tending to show that defendant had separated himself from his wife, and given up his residence in the state. This evidence, however, did not become important on the trial, as the court instructed the jury that a husband might be convicted of arson in burning his wife's dwelling house, though residing with her, and defendant was convicted accordingly.

The statute provides that, "Every person who shall willfully and maliciously burn in the night time, the dwelling-house of another," etc., shall be punished, etc.: Comp L., § 5745. There are numerous decisions as to what is meant by the dwelling-house of another, as well at the common law as under like statutes to our own. Arson is an offense against the habitation, and regards the possession rather than the property: State v. Toole, 29 Conn. 342. The house, therefore, must not be described as the house of the owner of the fee, if in fact at the time another has the actual occupancy, but it must be described as the dwelling-house of him whose dwelling it then is: 2 East P. C., 1034; 4 Bl. Com., 220; Whart. Cr. L., § 1638; 2 Bish. Cr. L., 2d ed., § 24; Holmes' Case, Cro. Cas., 376; Spaulding's Case, 1 Leach 217; Commonwealth v. Wade, 17 Pick. 395. Even, it seems, though the occupation be wrongful: Rex v. Wallis, 1 Mood. C. C., 344; State v. Toole, 29 Conn. 342. It follows that a lessee could not be guilty of the felony in burning the premises occupied by him as such: 2 East P. C., 1029; 2 Russ. on Cr., 550; McNeal v. Woods, 3 Blackf. 485; State v. Lyon, 12 Conn. 487; State v. Fish, 3 Dutch. 323; State v. Sandy , 3 Ired. 570; 3 Greenl. Ev., § 55, while the landlord, during such occupation, might be: 2 East P. C., 1023-4; Sullivan v. State, 5 Stew. & Port., 175. A jail, it has been held, may be described as the dwelling-house of the jailer living with his family in one part of it: People v. Van Blarcum, 2 Johns. 105; Stevens v. Commonwealth, 2 Leigh 683. And it seems that the wife, because of the legal identity with the husband, cannot be guilty of the offense in burning the husband's dwelling, even though at the time living separate from him: March's Case, Mood. C. C., 182. This would doubtless be so held whenever the wife's domicil is regarded in law as identical with the husband's, which for many purposes is no longer the case when they live separate.

It must be evident from this summary of the law on this subject, that if the husband, living with his wife, has a rightful possession jointly with her of the dwelling-house which she owns and they both occupy, he cannot, by common-law rules, be guilty of arson in burning it. It remains to be seen whether the statutes have introduced any changes which would affect the case.

The statutes upon which the question arises, are those for the protection of the rights of married women. But it is to be observed, that those do not in terms go beyond the ensuring to the wife such property as she may own at the marriage, and acquire afterwards, and the giving to her the power to protect, control and dispose of the same in her own name, and free from the interposition of the husband. None of them purports to operate upon the family relations; none of them takes from the husband his marital rights, except as they pertain to property, and none of them relieves him from responsibilities, except as they relate to the wife's contracts and debts. He is still under the common-law obligation to support the wife, and the services of the wife, which at the common law were regarded as the consideration for this support, are still supposed to be performed in his behalf and in his interest, except where they are given to her individual estate, or separate business. The wife has a right to receive her support at the husband's domicil, unless she has lost it by misbehavior, and husband and wife together have a joint interest in and control of the children, which they cannot of right sever, and which are not, even in contemplation of law, regarded as distinct, though the courts are sometimes compelled to treat them as if they were so, when difficulties arise which make legal intervention essential to the protection and welfare of the children. As regards her individual property, the law has done little more than to give legal rights and remedies to the wife, where before, by settlement or contract, she might have established corresponding equitable rights and remedies, and the unity of man and woman in the marriage relation, is no more broken up by giving her a statutory ownership and control of property, than it would have been before the statute, by such family settlement as should give...

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    ...and independent authority to act was vested in the husband alone." Canjar, 770 N.W.2d at 453, 283 Mich. App. at 728 (citing Snyder v. People, 26 Mich. 106, 109 (1872)). However, with the enactment of a set of mandates known as the married women's property acts, Michigan law now gives marrie......
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