United States v. Searcey

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Citation26 F. 435
Decision Date01 November 1885
PartiesUNITED STATES v. SEARCEY.

26 F. 435

UNITED STATES
v.
SEARCEY.

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina.

November, 1885


[26 F. 436]

H. C. Jones, U.S. Atty., for the United States.

J. W. Bowman, W. S. Malone, and A. M. Erwin, for defendant.

DICK, J., (charging jury.)

The counsel of defendant stated correctly a well-settled principle of law and rule of evidence which arises in the commencement of your investigation. In all trials for crime, the prosecution must prove, to the satisfaction of a jury, that a crime has been committed, before the jury proceed to inquire as to who is the criminal. This elementary and conservative principle has always been regarded as very important in cases involving the life and liberty of the citizen, and it has generally been strictly observed in the courts.

The offense charged in this indictment is the breaking into a distillery warehouse, and gaining access to the contents therein, in the absence of the proper officer. You will first proceed to inquire as to whether the offense charged was committed, and also as to the time when committed, as this fact is very important and material in applying the circumstantial evidence relied on by the prosecution as the ground of conviction. As there is no direct evidence of the breaking and entering into the warehouse, you must consider the facts proved, and determine whether they give rise to presumptions and inferences sufficiently clear and conclusive as to fully satisfy you that the offense charged was committed. In criminal trials, juries, in their investigations, often have to rely on presumptions and circumstantial evidence, as persons who commit crimes usually seek the security of secrecy and darkness to perpetrate their unlawful acts. The facts relied on as the foundation of presumptions, and as constituting the basis of circumstantial evidence, must always be clearly proved.

I will briefly explain to you the legal doctrine of presumptions. A presumption is a probable inference, which common sense, enlightened by human knowledge and experience, draws from the connection, [26 F. 437] relation, and coincidence of facts and circumstances with each other. When a fact shown in evidence necessarily accompanies the fact in issue, it gives rise to a strong presumption as to the existence of the fact to be proved. If the fact in evidence usually accompanies the fact in issue, it gives rise to a probably presumption of the existence of the fact to be proved. If the fact shown in evidence only occasionally accompanies the fact in issue, it gives rise only to a slight and insufficient presumption; but even this fact may, in connection with other relevant and consistent facts and circumstances, constitute an element in circumstantial evidence. There is a difference between the legal doctrine of presumptions and evidence which is purely circumstantial. There are presumptions of law and presumptions of fact. Presumptions of law are usually founded upon reasons of public policy, and social convenience and safety, which are warranted by the legal experience of courts in administering justice. Some of these presumptions have become established and conclusive rules of law, while others are only prima facie evidence, and may be rebutted. The court may always instruct a jury as to the force and effect of legal presumptions. Presumptions of fact must always be drawn by a jury; and every fact and circumstance which tends to prove any fact which is evidence of guilt is admissible in evidence of the trial of a case. Presumptions of fact result from the proof of a fact, or a number of facts and circumstances, which human experience has shown are usually associated with the matter under investigation.

Circumstantial evidence, strictly speaking, consists of a number of disconnected and independent facts, which converge towards the fact in issue as a common center. These concurrent and coincident facts are arranged in combination by a mental process of reasoning and inference, enlightened by common observation, experience, and knowledge. Where presumptions arise from a number of connected and dependent facts, every fact essential to the series must be proved. Such evidence is like a chain, in which no link must be missing or broken which destroys its continuity. Circumstantial evidence is, like a wire cable, composed of many small associated but independent wires. Wire cables are often used to sustain ponderous bridges over rivers. The strength of the cable depends upon the number of wires which are combined, but some of the wires may be broken, and yet the cable be sufficiently strong to uphold the structure. As no chain is stronger than its weakest link, a chain is less reliable when it has a great number of links, but a wire cable is strengthened by an increase in the number of its wires. This combination of attenuated wires may be stronger than a solid rod of iron of the same size which may have flaws affecting its strength. When circumstantial evidence consists of a number of independent circumstances, coming from several witnesses and different sources, each of which is consistent, and tends to the same conclusion, the probability of the truth of the [26 F. 438] fact in issue is increased in proportion to the number of such circumstances.

In the case before you there are no conclusive presumptions of law. There is a legal presumption as to the innocence of the defendant, and that continues in his favor until you become fully satisfied as to his guilt. There are presumptions of fact as to the breaking and entering the warehouse, and as to the time when the act was done. The evidence as to the person who did the breaking is entirely circumstantial, and you must consider the nature of the circumstances in evidence, and the inferences which they suggest, and determine the question whether they are sufficiently strong to satisfy you beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty as charged in the indictment.

The witness Williams testified that he was the owner of the warehouse, and had suspended operations in his distillery in September, 1883. At the time of suspension there were eleven packages of whisky in the warehouse, and on each of them there was a warehouse stamp, the serial number and name of the owner. The witness went to his warehouse several times with the store-keeper, and withdrew some packages in the manner required by law. He had not visited the warehouse for three months previous to the thirteenth of February, 1884. On the morning of the fourteenth of February, 1884, a barrel of whisky was found above a half mile from the warehouse, near the public road on the way to Hendersonville. This barrel was properly marked for said warehouse, and about 10 gallons of whisky had been taken out. The witness, hearing that his warehouse had been broken and entered, went to it with the store-keeper on the sixteenth of February, and found the door locked; but he noticed that the staple had been drawn, and was not driven back to its former depth in the facing, and there were marks on the door indicating that some kind of a prize had been used to draw out the staple. On opening the warehouse he discovered that six packages had been taken away.

There is a well-settled rule of law in cases of larceny: That upon proof that a larceny has been committed, and that the property stolen was shortly afterwards found in the possession of the defendant, a presumption arises that he obtained the property feloniously. This presumption is strong if the finding is very soon after the taking, and the weight of the presumption diminishes as the time of finding becomes more distant from the time of taking. This same rule has also been applied as evidence of guilt, in cases of arson and burglary, where property known to have been in a house at the time of burning or breaking has been soon afterwards...

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12 practice notes
  • Kestler v. State, No. 28346.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • April 6, 1949
    ...v. Willett [1895], 105 Mich. 110, 62 N.W. 1115;People v. Tobin [1903], 176 N.Y. 278, 68 N.E. 359;United States v. Searcey, D.C., [1885], 26 F. 435.’ (Italics added.) Howard v. State, 1923, 193 Ind. 599, 603, 141 N.E. 341, 343. The appellant was not charged with negligence in the use of fire......
  • Thompson v. S. Mich. Transp. Co., No. 15.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • January 3, 1933
    ...and circumstances, which human experience has shown are usually associated with the matter under investigation.’ U. S. v. Searcey (D. C.) 26 F. 435, 437. ‘All presumptions, however, are liable to be contrary to the fact, but they attend us at every point in our examinations of facts, and it......
  • Jones v. State, 30176
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • February 20, 1933
    ...separately may be wholly insufficient upon which to base an inference, and yet all together be absolutely convincing. U. S. v. Searcy, 26 F. 435; U. S. v. Isla De Cuba F. Cas. 15447. Argued orally by Earl Wingo, for appellant, and W. D. Conn, Jr., and Alexander Currie, for the state. OPINIO......
  • State v. Alcorn
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • April 29, 1901
    ...is established, the testimony sought to be elicited by the above question under consideration was improper. (United States v. Searcy, 26 F. 435; Taylor v. State, 101 Ind. 63; Wharton on Criminal Evidence, 633; People v. Hall, 48 Mich. 482, 42 Am. Rep. 477, 12 N.W. 665; People v. Millard, 53......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
12 cases
  • Kestler v. State, No. 28346.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • April 6, 1949
    ...v. Willett [1895], 105 Mich. 110, 62 N.W. 1115;People v. Tobin [1903], 176 N.Y. 278, 68 N.E. 359;United States v. Searcey, D.C., [1885], 26 F. 435.’ (Italics added.) Howard v. State, 1923, 193 Ind. 599, 603, 141 N.E. 341, 343. The appellant was not charged with negligence in the use of fire......
  • Thompson v. S. Mich. Transp. Co., No. 15.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • January 3, 1933
    ...and circumstances, which human experience has shown are usually associated with the matter under investigation.’ U. S. v. Searcey (D. C.) 26 F. 435, 437. ‘All presumptions, however, are liable to be contrary to the fact, but they attend us at every point in our examinations of facts, and it......
  • Jones v. State, 30176
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • February 20, 1933
    ...separately may be wholly insufficient upon which to base an inference, and yet all together be absolutely convincing. U. S. v. Searcy, 26 F. 435; U. S. v. Isla De Cuba F. Cas. 15447. Argued orally by Earl Wingo, for appellant, and W. D. Conn, Jr., and Alexander Currie, for the state. OPINIO......
  • State v. Alcorn
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • April 29, 1901
    ...is established, the testimony sought to be elicited by the above question under consideration was improper. (United States v. Searcy, 26 F. 435; Taylor v. State, 101 Ind. 63; Wharton on Criminal Evidence, 633; People v. Hall, 48 Mich. 482, 42 Am. Rep. 477, 12 N.W. 665; People v. Millard, 53......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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