The United States, Plaintiffs v. Thomas Reid and Edward Clements

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation13 L.Ed. 1023,12 How. 361,53 U.S. 361
Decision Date01 December 1851

Mr. Chief Justice TANEY delivered the opinion of the court.

This case comes before the court upon a certificate of division between the judges of the Circuit Court for the District of Virginia.

Thomas Reid and Edward Clements were jointly indicted for murder, committed by them on the high seas, on board the American ship J. B. Lindsey.

They were, by the permission of the court, separately tried, and, upon the trial of Reid, he proposed to call Clements as a witness on his behalf. The court rejected the testimony, being of opinion that, as he was jointly indicted with the prisoner on the trial, he was not a competent witness. Reid was found guilty by the jury.

At a subsequent day he moved for a new trial upon two grounds: 1st. Because the testimony of Clements was improperly rejected: and, 2d. For misbehavior in two of the jury who tried the cause. In support of the second objection, he offered in evidence the voluntary affidavits of the two jurors, one of whom deposed 'that, while the case was on trial, and the jury were impanelled, a newspaper was sent to him by some of his family from his counting-room. It was a newspaper for which he was a subscriber, which was regularly left at his counting-house, and which he was accustomed to read. He looked slightly over it, and saw that it contained a report of the evidence which had been given in the case under trial, a part of which he read and put the paper in his pocket; that, while the jury were in their room deliberating on their verdict, he read over the report of the evidence in the newspaper; he read it from curiosity, and thought it correct, and that it refreshed his memory; but it had no influence on his verdict, and that he had made up his mind before he read it. There was no conversation about the newspaper report in the jury-room, nor did he speak of it there to any one, nor does he know that the other jurors knew that the report of the evidence was in the newspaper they saw him reading.'

The other juror deposed 'that he saw this newspaper while the jury was impanelled in the court-room, and, upon looking at it, saw that it contained a report of the evidence that had been given in the case under trial. He looked over a few sentences and put the paper aside, and did not see it afterwards. He did not think the report accurate; it had not the slightest influence on his judgment.'

Upon the argument of the motion above mentioned the following questions arose:

1st. Ought the court to have received the evidence of Clements in behalf of the prisoner; and does the refusal of the court to admit his testimony entitle the prisoner to a new trial?

2d. Ought the affidavits of the two jurors to be received; and do the facts stated in them entitle the prisoner to a new trial?

And upon each of these points the judges of the Circuit Court were opposed in opinion, and ordered that the questions be certified to the Supreme Court for its decision.

The difficulty in the first question arose upon the construction of the 34th section of the act of Congress of 1789.

By a statute of Virginia, adopted in 1849, it is provided 'that no person who is not jointly tried with the defendant shall be incompetent to testify in any prosecution by reason of interest in the subject-matter thereof.' And if the section in the Judiciary Act above referred to extends to the testimony in criminal cases in the courts of the United States, then the testimony of Clements was improperly rejected.

The section in question declares that the laws of the several states, except where the Constitution, treaties, or statutes of the United States shall otherwise require or provide, shall be regarded as rules of decision, in trials at common law, in the courts of the United States, in cases where they apply.

The language of this section cannot, upon any fair construction, be extended beyond civil cases at common law, as contradistinguished from suits in equity. So far as concerns rights of property, it is the only rule that could be adopted by the courts of the United States, and the only one that Congress had the power to establish. And the section above quoted was merely intended to confer on the courts of the United States the jurisdiction necessary to enable them to administer the laws of the states. But it could not be supposed, without very plain words to show it, that Congress intended to give to the states the power of prescribing the rules of evidence in trials for offences against the United States. For this construction would in effect place the criminal jurisprudence of one sovereignty under the control of another. It is evident that such could not be the design of this act of Congress, and that the statute of Virginia was not the law by which the admissibility of Clements as a witness ought to have been decided.

Neither could the court look altogether to the rules of the English common law, as it existed at the time of the settlement of this country, for reasons that will presently be stated. Nor is there any act of Congress prescribing in express words the rule by which the courts of the United States are to be governed, in the admission of testimony in criminal cases. But we think it may be found with sufficient certainty, not indeed in direct terms, but by necessary implication, in the acts of 1789 and 1790, establishing the courts of the United States, and providing for the punishment of certain offences. And the law by which, in the opinion of this court, the admissibility of testimony in criminal cases must be determined, is the law of the state, as it was when the courts of the United States were established by the Judiciary Act of 1789. The subject is a grave one, and it is therefore proper that the court should state fully the grounds of its decision.

The colonists who established the English colonies in this country, undoubtedly brought with them the common and statute laws of England, as they stood at the time of their emigration, so far as they were applicable to the situation and local circumstances of the colony. And among the most cherished and familar principles of the common law was the trial by jury in civil, and still more especially in criminal cases. And, however the colonies may have varied in other respects in the modifications with which the common or ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
168 cases
  • Sheppard v. Bagley, Case No. 1:00-cv-493.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • March 4, 2009
    ...well qualified to say whether he has an unbiased mind in a certain matter." Id., at 171, 70 S.Ct., at 523. See also United States v. Reid, 12 How. 361, 366, 13 L.Ed. 1023 (1852 [sic] Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. at 217 n. 7, 102 S.Ct. 940. There is no evidence in the record to support Sheppa......
  • Pittman v. State
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • April 10, 1906
    ...... powers exercised by the government of the United. States, and not to those of the states. . . ... See 22 Ency. Pl. & Pr. 1330; U.S. v. Reid, 12 How. (U. S.) 361, 13 L.Ed. 1023; 4 Black. ... temptation to delay. Clements v. State (decided here at this. term) 40 So. ...656, and authorities. there cited; Thomas v. State, 47 Fla. 99, 36 So. 161; Schley v. ......
  • Burnet v. Coronado Oil Gas Co
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 11, 1932
    ...L. Ed. 645, Ann. Cas. 1913D, 880; Rosen v. United States, 245 U. S. 467, 470, 38 S. Ct. 148, 62 L. Ed. 406, overruling United States v. Reid, 12 How. 361, 13 L. Ed. 1023 (compare Greer v. United States, 245 U. S. 559, 561, 38 S. Ct. 209, 62 L. Ed. 469; Jin Fuey Moy v. United States, 254 U. ......
  • Clark v. United States, 9457.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • October 20, 1932
    ...been with great caution. The court says there are only three instances in which the subject has been before it. In United States v. Reid, 12 How. 361, 13 L. Ed. 1023, the question was not decided. In Mattox v. United States, 146 U. S. 140, 13 S. Ct. 50, 36 L. Ed. 917, evidence was received ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4 books & journal articles
  • Two Rights Collide: Determining When Attorney-Client Privilege Should Yield to a Defendant’s Right to Compulsory Process or Confrontation
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review No. 58-2, April 2021
    • April 1, 2021
    ...the unlimited right to present a defense without regard for the rules of evidence or the procedures governing a criminal trial.”). 72. 53 U.S. 361 (1851). 73. Id. at 361. It is also worth noting that this case was heard in federal court, making the Compulsory Process Clause’s incorporation ......
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 170 No. 4, March 2022
    • March 1, 2022
    ...(142) Peha-Rodriguez v. Colorado, 137 S. Ct. 855, 860-61 (2017). (143) Id. at 863, 869. (144) Id. at 865-66 (citing United States v. Reid, 53 U.S. 361, 366 (145) Id. at 867. (146) Id. (147) Id. at 868. (148) Id. at 868, 869. (149) Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 412-13 (1991) (citations omitt......
  • Putting compulsory back in compulsory process
    • United States
    • Military Law Review No. 215, March 2013
    • March 1, 2013
    ...442 (1932); United States v. Van Duzee, 140 U.S. 169, 173 (1891) (dictum); Ex parte Harding, 120 U.S. 782 (1887); United States v. Reid, 53 U.S. 361, 363–65 (1851) (dictum); Rose v. United States, 245 U.S. 467 (1918) (overruled by Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 21–22 (1967)). 87 Westen, ......
  • Runaway Jury: An Analysis of State Laws Concerning Juror Impeachment
    • United States
    • Criminal Justice Policy Review No. 31-3, April 2020
    • April 1, 2020
    ...1187-1229. Retrieved from States v. Benally, 546 F.3d 1230 (10th Cir. 2008).United States v. Reid, 53 U.S. 361 (1851).United States v. Villar, 586 F.3d 76 (1st Cir. 2009).Warger v. Shauers, 574 U. S. ___ (2014).West, J. L. (2011). 12 racist men: Post-ver......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT