SIMMONS v. UNITED STATES.

No. 1296.

12 S. Ct. 171 (1891) | Cited 136 times | Supreme Court | December 21, 1891

MR. JUSTICE GRAY, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

The general rule of law upon the power of the court to discharge the jury in a criminal case before verdict was laid down by this court more than sixty years ago, in a case presenting the question whether a man charged with a capital crime was entitled to be discharged because the jury, being unable to agree, had been discharged, without his consent, from giving any verdict upon the indictment. The court, speaking by Mr. Justice Story, said: "We are of opinion that the facts constitute no legal bar to a future trial. The prisoner has not been convicted or acquitted, and may again be put upon his defence. We think that, in all cases of this nature, the law has invested courts of justice with the authority to discharge a jury from giving any verdict, whenever in their opinion, taking all the circumstances into consideration, there is a manifest necessity for the act, or the ends of public justice would otherwise be defeated. They are to exercise a sound discretion on the subject; and it is impossible to define all the circumstances which would render it proper to interfere. To be sure, the power ought to be used with the greatest caution, under urgent circumstances, and for very plain and obvious causes; and, in

     capital cases especially, courts should be extremely careful how they interfere with any of the chances of life in favor of the prisoner. But, after all, they have the right to order the discharge; and the security which the public have for the faithful, sound and conscientious exercise of this descretion rests, in this, as in other cases, upon the responsibility of the judges, under their oaths of office." United States v. Perez, 9 Wheat. 579.

A recent decision of the Court of Queen's Bench, made upon a full review of the English authorities, and affirmed in the Exchequer Chamber, is to the same effect. Winsor v. The Queen, L.R. 1 Q.B. 289, 390; S.C. 6 B. & S. 143, and 7 B. & S. 490.

There can be no condition of things in which the necessity for the exercise of this power is more manifest, in order to prevent the defeat of the ends of public justice, than when it is made to appear to the court that, either by reason of facts existing when the jurors were sworn, but not then disclosed or known to the court, or by reason of outside influences brought to bear on the jury pending the trial, the jurors or any of them are subject to such bias or prejudice as not to stand impartial between the government and the accused. As was well said by Mr. Justice Curtis in a case very like that now before us, "It is an entire mistake to confound this discretionary authority of the court, to protect one part of the tribunal from corruption or prejudice, with the right of challenge allowed to a party. And it is, at least, equally a mistake to suppose that, in a court of justice, either party can have a vested right to a corrupt or prejudiced juror, who is not fit to sit in judgment in the case." United States v. Morris, 1 Curtis C.C. 23, 37.

Pending the first trial of the present case, there was brought to the notice of the counsel on both sides, and of the court, evidence on oath tending to show that one of the jurors had sworn falsely on his voir dire that he had no acquaintance with the defendant; and it was undisputed that a letter since written and published in the newspapers by the defendant's counsel, commenting upon that evidence, had been read by that juror and by others of the jury. It needs no argument to prove that the judge, upon receiving such information, was

     fully justified in concluding that such a publication, under the peculiar circumstances attending it, made it impossible for that jury, in considering the case, to act with the independence and freedom on the part of each juror requisite to a fair trial of the issue between the parties. The judge having come to that conclusion, it was clearly within his authority to order the jury to be discharged, and to put the defendant on trial by another jury; and the defendant was not thereby twice put in jeopardy, within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

The only other exception argued is to the statement made by the judge to the second jury, in denying their request to be discharged without having agreed upon a verdict, that he regarded the testimony as convincing. But at the outset of his charge he had told them, in so many words, that the facts were to be decided by the jury, and not by the court. And it is so well settled, by a long series of decisions of this court, that the judge presiding at a trial, civil or criminal, in any court of the United States, is authorized, whenever he thinks it will assist the jury in arriving at a just conclusion, to express to them his opinion upon the questions of fact which he submits to their determination, that it is only necessary to refer to two or three recent cases in which the judge's opinion on matters of fact was quite as plainly and strongly expressed to the jury as in the case at bar. Vicksburg &c. Railroad v. Putnam, 118 U.S. 545; United States v. Philadelphia & Reading Railroad, 123 U.S. 113; Lovejoy v. United States, 128 U.S. 171.

Judgment affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE GRAY, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

The general rule of law upon the power of the court to discharge the jury in a criminal case before verdict was laid down by this court more than sixty years ago, in a case presenting the question whether a man charged with a capital crime was entitled to be discharged because the jury, being unable to agree, had been discharged, without his consent, from giving any verdict upon the indictment. The court, speaking by Mr. Justice Story, said: "We are of opinion that the facts constitute no legal bar to a future trial. The prisoner has not been convicted or acquitted, and may again be put upon his defence. We think that, in all cases of this nature, the law has invested courts of justice with the authority to discharge a jury from giving any verdict, whenever in their opinion, taking all the circumstances into consideration, there is a manifest necessity for the act, or the ends of public justice would otherwise be defeated. They are to exercise a sound discretion on the subject; and it is impossible to define all the circumstances which would render it proper to interfere. To be sure, the power ought to be used with the greatest caution, under urgent circumstances, and for very plain and obvious causes; and, in

     capital cases especially, courts should be extremely careful how they interfere with any of the chances of life in favor of the prisoner. But, after all, they have the right to order the discharge; and the security which the public have for the faithful, sound and conscientious exercise of this descretion rests, in this, as in other cases, upon the responsibility of the judges, under their oaths of office." United States v. Perez, 9 Wheat. 579.

A recent decision of the Court of Queen's Bench, made upon a full review of the English authorities, and affirmed in the Exchequer Chamber, is to the same effect. Winsor v. The Queen, L.R. 1 Q.B. 289, 390; S.C. 6 B. & S. 143, and 7 B. & S. 490.

There can be no condition of things in which the necessity for the exercise of this power is more manifest, in order to prevent the defeat of the ends of public justice, than when it is made to appear to the court that, either by reason of facts existing when the jurors were sworn, but not then disclosed or known to the court, or by reason of outside influences brought to bear on the jury pending the trial, the jurors or any of them are subject to such bias or prejudice as not to stand impartial between the government and the accused. As was well said by Mr. Justice Curtis in a case very like that now before us, "It is an entire mistake to confound this discretionary authority of the court, to protect one part of the tribunal from corruption or prejudice, with the right of challenge allowed to a party. And it is, at least, equally a mistake to suppose that, in a court of justice, either party can have a vested right to a corrupt or prejudiced juror, who is not fit to sit in judgment in the case." United States v. Morris, 1 Curtis C.C. 23, 37.

Pending the first trial of the present case, there was brought to the notice of the counsel on both sides, and of the court, evidence on oath tending to show that one of the jurors had sworn falsely on his voir dire that he had no acquaintance with the defendant; and it was undisputed that a letter since written and published in the newspapers by the defendant's counsel, commenting upon that evidence, had been read by that juror and by others of the jury. It needs no argument to prove that the judge, upon receiving such information, was

     fully justified in concluding that such a publication, under the peculiar circumstances attending it, made it impossible for that jury, in considering the case, to act with the independence and freedom on the part of each juror requisite to a fair trial of the issue between the parties. The judge having come to that conclusion, it was clearly within his authority to order the jury to be discharged, and to put the defendant on trial by another jury; and the defendant was not thereby twice put in jeopardy, within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

The only other exception argued is to the statement made by the judge to the second jury, in denying their request to be discharged without having agreed upon a verdict, that he regarded the testimony as convincing. But at the outset of his charge he had told them, in so many words, that the facts were to be decided by the jury, and not by the court. And it is so well settled, by a long series of decisions of this court, that the judge presiding at a trial, civil or criminal, in any court of the United States, is authorized, whenever he thinks it will assist the jury in arriving at a just conclusion, to express to them his opinion upon the questions of fact which he submits to their determination, that it is only necessary to refer to two or three recent cases in which the judge's opinion on matters of fact was quite as plainly and strongly expressed to the jury as in the case at bar. Vicksburg &c. Railroad v. Putnam, 118 U.S. 545; United States v. Philadelphia & Reading Railroad, 123 U.S. 113; Lovejoy v. United States, 128 U.S. 171.

Judgment affirmed.

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