State v. Townley

Decision Date29 April 1921
Docket NumberNo. 22086.,22086.
Citation149 Minn. 5,182 N.W. 773
PartiesSTATE v. TOWNLEY et al.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court


Appeal from District Court, Jackson County; E. C. Dean, Judge.

A. C. Townley and Joseph Gilbert were convicted of criminal conspiracy, a new trial was denied, and they appeal. Affirmed.

Syllabus by the Court

To establish a charge of a conspiracy to violate chapter 463, Gen. Laws 1917 (Gen. St. Supp. 1917, §§ 8521–1 to 8521–6), the state must prove that defendants had concerted to teach that men should not enlist in the military forces of the United States or aid in carrying on the war with Germany. A combination for an unlawful purpose is the foundation of the offense, and an overt act in furtherance of such purpose completes the offense. All who are parties to the combination incur guilt when one does such an act. The combination need not be established by direct evidence, but may be inferred from circumstances.

The evidence, direct and circumstantial, was sufficient to support the verdict.

If guilt is clearly established, a criminal conviction will not be reversed for technical errors, where the substantial rights of the accused have not been so violated as to make it reasonably clear that a fair trial was not had.

It is discretionary with the trial court to grant separate trials of defendants jointly indicted for a misdemeanor.

Defendants were not unduly restricted in their cross-examination of the state's principal witness.

The reasons for a change from friendly to unfriendly sentiments on the part of a witness for the state having been inquired into on his cross-examination, it was not error to permit the state to further develop the subject within reasonable limits.

The admission of evidence of doubtful relevancy is not alone sufficient ground for a new trial where there was ample competent evidence to warrant the jury's conclusion respecting defendant's guilt.

There were no errors in rulings admitting or excluding evidence.

Defendants are not entitled to a new trial on the ground of misconduct on the part of the court or opposing counsel.

It was within the discretion of the trial court to receive and consider defendants' requests for instructions not submitted until near the end of the argument of the prosecuting attorney, notwithstanding the request of the court, made several days before, that the attorneys present their proposed instructions in time to enable the court to consider them. Section 7802, Gen. St. 1913, is applicable to the trial of criminal as well as civil actions.

Since the accused may now testify in his own behalf if he desires, the courts should no longer follow or recognize the practice obtaining at common law of permitting him to make an unsworn statement to the jury at the close of the case.

There is no constitutional provision conferring upon the accused the right to make the closing argument to the jury in his own behalf. He is guaranteed the right of having the assistance of counsel for his defense, and counsel cannot be imposed upon him against his will, but if he elects to be represented by counsel who conduct the defense until the time comes to make the argument to the jury, he cannot ostensibly discharge them and then insist on making the closing argument himself, especially where he did not take the stand as a witness. It is within the discretion of the trial court to permit him to do so, and, under the facts disclosed by the record, it did not abuse its discretion in refusing such permission. George Hoke, of Minneapolis, George Nordlin, of St. Paul, and Vince A. Day, of Minneapolis, for appellants.

Clifford L. Hilton, Atty. Gen., James E. Markham, Asst. Atty. Gen., and E. H. Nicholas, Co. Atty., of Jackson, for the State.


Defendants were indicted in Jackson county in May, 1918, on a charge of criminal conspiracy. The substance of the indictment and the questions raised by their demurrer to it are reported in State v. Townley, 142 Minn. 326, 171 N. W. 930. Defendants were brought to trial in June, 1919. The trial lasted three weeks, and resulted in a verdict of guilty. They moved for a new trial. In July 1920, their motion was denied, and they appealed, specifying 102 alleged errors. Some of the assignments are not of sufficient importance to justify discussion, but none have escaped our careful consideration. Some have been combined for examination, and others will be considered separately.

1. The objections to the constitutionality of chapter 463, G. L. 1917 (Gen. St. Supp. 1917, §§ 8521–1 to 8521–6), which are first in order, were disposed of in State v. Gilbert, 141 Minn. 263, 169 N. W. 790, affirmed in Gilbert v. Minnesota, 254 U. S. 325, 41 Sup. Ct. 125, 65 L. Ed. 287.

2. To establish the guilt of the defendants, the state was required to prove that they had conspired to teach or advocate that men should not enlist in the military or naval forces of the United States, or that citizens of Minnesota should not aid the United States in carrying on the war with Germany; and that some act had been done by one or both to effect the object of the conspiracy. Sections 8595, 8596, G. S. 1913.

The combination of two or more minds in an unlawful purpose is the foundation of the offense, but an overt act in furtherance of the common purpose is necessary to complete it. The statement to the contrary in State v. Pulle, 12 Minn. 164 (Gil. 99), is no longer the law, in view of the provisions of the statute. All who are parties to the combination incur guilt when any one of them does an act to further the purpose of the unlawful confederation. State v. Thaden, 43 Minn. 253, 45 N. W. 447;State v. Palmer, 79 Minn. 428, 82 N. W. 685;State v. Dunn, 140 Minn. 308, 168 N. W. 2;State v. Smith, 144 Minn. 348,175 N. W. 686;Hyde v. U. S., 225 U. S. 347, 32 Sup. Ct. 793, 56 L. Ed. 1114, Ann. Cas. 1914A, 614.

The combination need not be established by direct evidence. It may be inferred from circumstances. No formal agreement to do the acts charged need be shown. Concurrence of sentiment and co-operative conduct, and not formality of speech, are the essential ingredients of conspiracy. Redding v. Wright, 49 Minn. 322, 51 N. W. 1056;Eacock v. State, 169 Ind. 488,82 N. W. 1039;State v. Caine, 134 Iowa, 147, 111 N. W. 443;Marrash v. U. S., 168 Fed. 225, 93 C. C. A. 511; Underhill, Crim. Evid. 491.

To sustain the charge, the state introduced both direct and circumstantial evidence of the alleged conspiracy, and made proof of defendants' acts alleged to have been done in furtherance of it. Those done in Jackson county were the acts of Gilbert alone, for it does not appear that Townley was ever in that county prior to the return of the indictment, but nevertheless the venue might properly be laid in Jackson county. Hyde v. United States, supra.

The direct evidence of conspiracy consisted of the testimony of one F. A. Teigen, which, in substance, was as follows: He made Townley's acquaintance at Fargo, in the winter of 1916, and Gilbert's at St. Paul, somewhat later. They employed him as an organizer, under a contract running for one year, to procure members of the Nonpartisan League, and to collect membership fees. Before he was employed, Townley told him he had conceived of and built the League himself, and had the final decision as to its policy. Defendants were together at League headquarters in St. Paul, where both had offices. Townley was president and Gilbert had charge of the organization work of the League. Teigen took orders from both. He discussed with Townley a speech which one Van Lear made at a meeting in his territory and asked whether he should participate in another meeting at which Van Lear was to speak. Townley replied that the Van Lear speech was a ‘crackerjack,’ and in the same connection said: We are against this Goddamned war, but we can't afford to advertise it.’ He advised him not to take part in the proposed meeting. Teigen had prepared a speech which he intended to deliver and discussed it with defendants. Gilbert thought it was all right, but Townley said it was too direct; that it should be camouflaged a little, and added:

‘Don't write or say or do anything that they can get you for; that is, any open opposition to the war. It is far better to let your position be known and understood by indirect methods.’

Late in the summer of 1917, letters of instruction were mailed to League organizers, expressing loyal sentiments. Townley told Teigen they were sent out to show that the League was patriotic, but that the real instructions would come by word of mouth from traveling agents. Gilbert expressed opposition to all wars, on principle. Townley's opposition was based on policy rather than principle. Both told Teigen that the cost of the war should not be met by the sale of bonds—that it was absolutely wrong, a mistaken policy on the part of the government. In the fall of 1917, Gilbert informed Teigen that the Public Safety Commission had asked that his further services be dispensed with. Townley said to him:

‘Somebody has got to be sacrificed to appease them, and you are the man that they are very bitter against, so we have got to discharge you. * * * And I am going out. I have got to go out. I am compelled to, and make patriotic speeches, and I have ordered all of the other men * * * to do the same thing, because if we don't they are going to get us.’

Gilbert admitted that he had talked with Teigen about the war, expressing his personal opinion, but denied that he told him what to teach. He admitted that Teigen had shown him his proposed speech, but denied that he had approved of or discussed it with Townley. He also admitted that he had signed Teigen's contract in behalf of the League.

Townley did not testify.

The sum and substance of Teigen's testimony was that the defendants were in accord in their purpose to discourage the prosecution of the war; that they planned to oppose it, and to use their organization to accomplish that end. Defendants...

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