Stuart v. State

Decision Date31 December 1873
Citation60 Tenn. 178
CourtTennessee Supreme Court



Appeal from the Criminal Court. W. P. HICKERSON, Judge, by interchange.


M. M. BRIEN, JR., and JOHN D. BRIEN for Stuart.

MCFARLAND, J., delivered the opinion of the court.

The prisoner appeals from the judgment of the Criminal Court of Davidson County, rendered upon the verdict of a jury finding him guilty of murder in the second degree, upon an indictment charging him with the murder of his wife, Agnes Stuart. He was before this Court at a former term, upon a similar conviction; the judgment was reversed, and a new trial awarded for error in the Judge's charge.

Various errors are now assigned:

First, it is argued that Judge Hickerson, of the Sixth Circuit, was not authorized by law to interchange with Judge Frazier, of the Criminal Court of Davidson County. It appears that Judge Hickerson signed the bill of exceptions, and from this it is apparent he presided upon the trial, though the record does not show the fact that he was holding by interchange with Judge Frazier. No question was made in the Court below, as to the power or jurisdiction of Judge Hickerson, and we think no such question could have been successfully made. By Section of the Code 3,915, “Judges and Chancellors are judges and chancellors for the State at prisoner's sanity at the time, seems to have been the only controverted question of fact. It was upon this question that the judgment was reversed by this Court at the former term.

It is earnestly argued that the law applicable to this defense, was not properly submitted to the jury. The charge in substance, was, that the law presumed the prisoner, if over 14 years of age, to be of sound mind, and the burthen was upon him to introduce proof to show his want of sanity, or to create a reasonable and well-founded doubt of his sanity, to entitle him to an acquittal. The Judge, in his charge, does not use the words mania a potu, delirium tremens, or other similar language, but uses the words “unsoundness of mind,” or insanity; the jury were instructed that to relieve the prisoner it was sufficient to show this unsoundness of mind, or create a reasonable doubt of the prisoner's sanity; and this was sufficient, whether the disease be permanent or temporary, and whether caused by the voluntary use of ardent spirits or otherwise. We do not think it essential that the Judge should have specially defined the various classes or types of insanity. It is the unsoundness of mind that excuses the act. According to the proof, mania a potu is a disease in which the mind is unsound. The language or the charge is comprehensive enough to embrace the particular class of insanity indicated by the proof. It says: The “unsoundness of mind may be temporary, caused by the use of ardent spirits.” This is what physicians call mania a potu, or delirium tremens, and if the proof made out a case of mania a potu, it made out a case of mental unsoundness. We think in this there was no error.

The next objection is, that the jury were told that the prisoner must be regarded as of sound mind, if he knew the act was wrong, and knew the consequences; in other words, if he knew right from wrong.

Upon this question there is to be found a great deal of refinement and subtlety of reasoning. Upon mere abstract large, and as such may, upon interchange, or other lawful ground, exercise the duties of office in any other judicial circuit in the State.”

The word “judges” in this and the preceding sections of the same article, is not necessarily restricted in its meaning to Circuit Judges. Sec. 3,916 authorizes Circuit Judges to interchange, and 3,917 enacts that chancellors may also interchange with each other and with judges of the Circuit, Criminal or other special courts under the same circumstances and to the same extent.

Although these sections do not, in express words, say that a Circuit Judge may interchange with the Judge of a special Criminal Court, yet we think this is fairly implied. They are judges of the State at large, and as such may exercise the duties of the office in any other circuit or division of the State.

Various criticisms are made upon the charge given to the jury. 1st. Because the judge failed to define murder in the first degree. The reason for this was, that the prisoner had, on a former trial, been acquitted of this part of the charge, and could not again be tried for it. The charge, however, defined murder in the second degree, and, we think, with sufficient accuracy. We do not perceive how the prisoner could have been prejudiced by the failure of the judge to charge the law in regard to murder in the first degree. He could not be put upon trial again for this grade of murder, and there would, perhaps, have been more reason for complaint upon the part of the prisoner, if the Judge had given the charge which it is now insisted he should have done.

The charge is also favorable to the prisoner, in giving the distinction between murder in the second degree and manslaughter. It is, however, manifest that the case did not turn upon this question. From the facts in proof, and the argument, it appears that the defense of the prisoner was rested alone upon the ground of temporary insanity, or mania a potu, at the time of the killing. And whether or not the proof made out this defense, or raised a reasonable doubt of the theory, there is scarcely to be found any such thing as absolute sanity.

It is seldom, if ever, a person can be found not subject to some peculiarity or obliquity of intellect, that may be, according to these abstract principles, classed among some of the almost infinite forms of partial insanity. But this doctrine is altogether too refined to be applied in the practical administration of the criminal law.

We must have some standard more practical in its character. All persons possessing a “sound memory and discretion,” in the language of our criminal code, should be held responsible for their criminal acts, and “a sound memory and discretion” must be understood in its practical and not in the abstract sense. Blackstone says: “Lunatics and infants are incapable of committing any crime, unless in such cases where they show a consciousness of doing wrong, and of course a discretion or discernment between good and evil.” This language is quoted with approval in Dore v. The State, 3 Heisk., 370. In Rogers v. The State, 7 Metcalf, Chief Justice Shaw said: “A man is not to be...

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14 cases
  • Brooks v. Rose, 74-1843
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • July 30, 1975
    ...which demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt the sanity of the defendant. Dove v. State, 50 Tenn. 348, 3 Heisk. 348 (1872); Stuart v. State, 60 Tenn. 178, 1 Baxt. 178 (1873); and King v. State, 91 Tenn. 617, 20 S.W. 169 (1892). See also, Jordan v. State, 124 Tenn. 81, 135 S.W. 327 (1910) an......
  • Phillips v. Neil
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • December 7, 1971
    ...which demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt the sanity of the defendant. Dove v. State, 50 Tenn. 348, 3 Heisk. 348 (1872); Stuart v. State, 60 Tenn. 178, 1 Baxt. 178 (1873); and King v. State, 91 Tenn. 617, 20 S.W. 169 (1892). See also, Jordan v. State, 124 Tenn. 81, 135 S.W. 327 (1910) an......
  • Delk v. State
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • October 9, 1979
    ...or the innocence of the defendant, such doubt must be weighed in favor of the defendant. 470 S.W.2d at 612-13 quoting from Stuart v. State, 60 Tenn. 178 (1873) After having read this record En toto, twice, * with painstaking care, reading parts of it on numerous occasions, after having prep......
  • Mullendore v. State
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • December 1, 1945
    ... ...          The ... fourth assignment, we think, merits additional consideration ... Since the law presumes sanity, the burden is on defendant to ... show insanity, voluntary or involuntary (King v ... State, 91 Tenn. 617, 646, 20 S.W. 169; Stuart v ... State, 60 Tenn. 178; Dove v. State, 50 Tenn ... 348, 370, 371), to make such insanity effective as a defense ... or in mitigation of crime. Drunkenness, wilfully induced, to ... be effective to reduce a murder from first to second degree, ... must be so complete that at the actual ... ...
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