State v. Cornellison

Decision Date08 April 1933
Citation59 S.W.2d 514,166 Tenn. 106
CourtTennessee Supreme Court

Appeal from Criminal Court, Davidson County; Chester K. Hart, Judge.

C. J Cornellison was indicted for larceny, and he filed motion to quash the indictment. From a judgment sustaining the motion the State appeals.

Reversed and remanded.

The Attorney General, for the State.

Walker & Hooker, of Nashville, for defendant in error.


This case is here on appeal by the state from a judgment of the circuit court sustaining motions to quash three indictments each charging the larceny of the articles described in the several indictments, each of the indictments containing a second count charging receiving and concealing the same personal property described in the first counts.

The validity of the indictments is challenged for the defendant chiefly on the theory that the property alleged to have been stolen is insufficiently described to such an extent as that the defendant is not given that notice of the nature and cause of the accusation against him which is contemplated by our Constitution (article 1, § 9).

Incidentally it is insisted that the indictments are deficient in failing to set forth with proper exactness the time and place of the commission of the alleged offenses; also, in failing to fix a valuation on each of the several articles of property included in the indictment, the draftsman having stated a total value at the end of each count of the various articles listed in said count. An averment of aggregate value was approved in State v. Shelton, 90 Tenn. 539, 18 S.W. 253.

It appears from an examination of the three indictments that the time is set out in the first as "On the ______ day of February, 1931, and prior to the finding of this indictment." (The indictments were found at the May term, 1931.) In the second the same language is used, but the blank is filled in to reAD "On the 12th day of February, 1931"; and in the third the language is identical with that in the first, except that the word "January" is substituted for the word "February." This is clearly sufficient under our statute (Shannon's Code, § 7087) and our cases. Bolton v. State, 5 Cold. 651; State v. Donaldson, 3 Heisk. 49. Of course, it is well settled that no averment of the value of the property which is the object of the criminal offense charged is necessary, unless value enters into the degree of crime, or determines the punishment. Ayres v. State, 115 Tenn. 722, 91 S.W. 195. In the instant case the aggregate value of the articles included in the first indictment is stated to be $69.50; in the second, $193.63; and in the third. $107.76--different articles being enumerated in each indictment.

Passing now to what is the main insistence for the defendant, ably and plausibly presented, it may be said that three controlling elements must be given application in passing on the sufficiency of the description of the person or thing denominated in the indictment as the objective of the offense charged. The description contained in the first indictment, illustrative of the issue under discussion, is: "One Ford Generator armature, one Carbosolve valva, one bag cleaning material, and steel tape measure, four shock absorbers and fittings, one mechanical jack, one box distributor points and raters and motor brushes, of the value of Sixty-nine and 50/100 ($69.50) Dollars."

1. In the first place, our state statutes have effected a simplification of the common-law rules touching the form and phraseology of indictments. In State v. Donaldson, 3 Heisk. 48, Judge DeADerick called attention to some of the strict requirements of the common law and noted that these well-established rules of criminal pleADing hAD been materially changed by our Tennessee statute, brought into Shannon's Code as sections 7077, 7080, 7083.

2. Moreover, the modern tendency is toward simplicity in pleADing, and particularly in criminal pleADing. As said by Mr. Justice Sutherland, in the recent case of Hagner et al. v. U. S., 285 U.S. 427, 52 S.Ct. 417, 419, 76 L.Ed. 861 (opinion delivered April 11, 1932): "The rigor of old common-law rules of criminal pleADing has yielded, in modern practice, to the general principle that formal defects, not prejudicial, will be disregarded. The true test of the sufficiency of an indictment is not whether it could have been mADe more definite and certain, but whether it contains the elements of the offense intended to be charged, 'and sufficiently apprises the defendant of what he must be prepared to meet, and, in case any other proceedings are taken against him for a similar offense, whether the record shows with accuracy to what extent he may pleAD a former acquittal or conviction.' Cochran and Sayre v. United States, 157 U.S. 286, 290, 15 S.Ct. 628, 630, 39 L.Ed. 704; Rosen v. United States, 161 U.S. 29, 34, 16 S.Ct. 434, 480, 40 L.Ed. 606."

And Mr. Justice McKinney, of this court, in the course of his opinion in Jordan v. State, 156 Tenn. 509, 3 S.W.2d 159, 160, well expressed this view: "In State v. Pearce, Peck (7 Tenn.) 67, decided more than 100 years ago, a history of the reason for the strictness required in indictments was detailed, and it was pointed out that the reason therefore no longer existed. And in subsequent decisions reference has frequently been mADe to the growing inclination of this court to escape from the embarrassment of technicalities that are empty and without reason, and tend to defeat law and right. Givens v. State, 103 Tenn. 652, 55 S.W. 1107, and cases there cited."

3. With particular application to the point herein mADe of alleged indefiniteness in identification of the denominated objects of the offenses charged, to wit, (1) larceny and (2) concealing, a distinction is to be taken between the description required in the indictment and that required in the proof; general or class identity being sufficient to be shown in the indictment, while in the proof individual or specific identification is requisite to conviction. Learned counsel for defendant appear to have overlooked this fundamental distinction.

By way of illustration, a charge that A stole from B a "horse," an animal of that general class, is good as a descriptive charge in the indictment, putting A on notice of the nature of the charge (larc...

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7 cases
  • Estep v. State
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • January 5, 1946
    ... ... 315. We have long departed, in our ... practice, from many of the technicalities of indictment ... required in common law pleading, Givens v. State, ... 103 Tenn. 648, 55 S.W. 1107; Jordan v. State of ... Tennessee, 156 Tenn. 509, 3 S.W.2d 159; State of ... Tennessee v. Cornellison, 166 Tenn. 106, 59 S.W.2d 514 ... We think the words in the indictment here, 'under Chapter ... 43, Public Acts of 1945,' could be treated as surplusage, ... and that the remainder would still give the defendant notice ... that he was charged 'with unlawfully administering toxic ... drugs.' ... ...
  • State v. Latimer
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • May 6, 1944
    ...Court in this regar: State v. Williams, 172 Tenn. 105, 110 S.W.2d 318; State v. Harris, 168 Tenn. 159, 76 S.W.2d 324; State v. Cornellison, 166 Tenn. 106, 59 S.W.2d 514; State v. Hall, 164 Tenn. 548, 51 S.W.2d State v. Brewer, 163 Tenn. 215, 42 S.W.2d 344; State v. Legora, 162 Tenn. 122, 34......
  • State v. Carter
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • December 19, 2003
    ...strict pleading requirements would be "embracing technicalities that are empty and without reason." Id. (quoting State v. Cornellison, 166 Tenn. 106, 59 S.W.2d 514, 515 (1933)); see also State v. Hammonds, 30 S.W.3d 294, 299 (Tenn.2000). Therefore, we have held that an indictment is valid i......
  • State v. Livingston
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • July 28, 2006
    ...embarrassment of technicalities that are empty and without reason, and tend to defeat law and right.'") (quoting State v. Cornellison, 166 Tenn. 106, 59 S.W.2d 514, 515 (1933)). Conclusion We conclude that the defendant in this case had sufficient notice of the State's intent to seek enhanc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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