Dennis Davis was indicted for the crime of having, on the 18th day of September, 1894, at the Creek Nation, in the Indian Territory, within the Western District of Arkansas, feloniously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, killed and murdered one Sol Blackwell.
He was found guilty of the charge in the indictment. A motion for a new trial having been overruled, and the court having adjudged that the accused was guilty of the crime of
At the trial below the government introduced evidence which, if alone considered, made it the duty of the jury to return a verdict of guilty of the crime charged.
But there was evidence tending to show that at the time of the killing the accused, by reason of unsoundness or weakness of mind, was not criminally responsible for his acts. In addition to the evidence of a practicing physician of many years standing, and who, for the time, was physician at the jail in which the accused was confined previous to his trial, "other witnesses," the bill of exceptions states, "testified that they had been intimately acquainted with the defendant for a number of years, lived near him, and had been frequently with him, knew his mental condition, and that he was weak-minded, and regarded by his neighbors and people as being what they called half crazy. Other witnesses who had known the defendant for ten to twenty years, witnesses who had worked with him and had been thrown in constant contact with him, said he had always been called half crazy, weak-minded; and in the opinion of the witnesses defendant was not of sound mind."
The issue, therefore, was as to the responsibility of the accused for the killing alleged and clearly proved.
In its elaborate charge the court instructed the jury as to the rules by which they were to be guided in determining whether the accused took the life of the deceased feloniously, wilfully, and with malice aforethought. "Where," the court said, "a man has been shot to death, where the facts, as claimed by the government here, show a lying in wait, show previous preparation, show the selection of a deadly weapon, and show concealment to get an opportunity to do the act, where that state of case exists, if there is a mental condition of the kind that renders a man accountable — why, there is crime, and that crime is murder."
Referring to the evidence adduced to show that the accused was incompetent in law to commit crime, the court observed: "Now when a man premeditates a wicked design that produces
Again: "Now, I will undertake or endeavor to tell you, and I bespeak your most earnest attention especially upon this proposition of `insanity.' The term `insanity,' as used in this defence, means such a perverted and deranged condition of the mental and moral faculties as to render a person incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, or unconscious at
Later in the charge the court recurred to the defence of insanity and said: "Now, as I have already told you, the law presumes every person who has reached the years of discretion to be of sane mind, and this presumption continues until the contrary is shown. So that when, as in this case, insanity is interposed as a defence, the fact of the existence of such insanity at the time of the commission of the offence charged, must be established by the evidence to the reasonable satisfaction of a jury, and the burden of proof of the insanity rests with the defendant. Although you may believe and find from the evidence that the defendant did commit the act charged against him, yet, if you further find that at the time he did so he was in such an insane condition of mind that he did not and could not understand and comprehend the nature of the act; or that thus knowing and understanding it, he was so far deprived of his will, not by his own passion conceived for the purpose of spurring him on to commit the violence, not by his own passion of mind engendered by some real or fancied grievance; but that he was so far deprived of his will by disease or other cause over which he had no control, as to render him unable to control his actions, then such killing was not a malicious killing, and you will acquit him of the crime charged against him."
In concluding its charge the court thus summarized the
"Now, gentlemen, the propositions are few in this case. First, inquire whether there was a killing; then whether the act of killing was done by the defendant, and what was his condition of mind under the law at that time, as I have given it to you. See what his mental condition was at that time under the law as I have given it to you, and if he is to be held responsible for his actions. If so, you are then to take a step further and see whether these attributes of the crime of murder existed as I have defined them to you; that is, that the killing was done wilfully and with malice aforethought.
"Gentlemen, I have given you the law in the case, and you are to take it as the law and by this law and the testimony you are to make up your verdict. You are to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the guilt of this defendant before you convict. When you start into a trial of a case, as I have already told you, you start in with the presumption of sanity. Then comes in the responsibility resting upon the defendant to show his condition; to show his irresponsibility under the law. He is required to show that — to your reasonable satisfaction, I say, to your reasonable satisfaction — that it is a state of case where he is excusable for the act."
These extracts from the charge of the court present this important question: If it appears that the deceased was killed by the accused under circumstances which — nothing else appearing — made a case of murder, can the jury properly return a verdict of guilty of the offence charged if upon the whole evidence from whatever side it comes they have a reasonable doubt whether at the time of killing the accused was mentally competent to distinguish between right and wrong or to understand the nature of the act he was committing? If this question be answered in the negative the judgment must be reversed; for the court below instructed the jury that the defence of insanity could not avail the accused unless it appeared affirmatively, to the reasonable satisfaction of the jury, that he was not criminally responsible for his acts. The fact of killing being clearly proved, the legal presumption,
This exposition of criminal law is not without support by adjudications in England and in this country. In Regina v. Stokes, 3 Car. & K. 185, 188, a case of murder, Baron Rolfe said: "If the prisoner seeks to excuse himself upon the plea of insanity, it is for him to make it clear that he was insane at the time of committing the offence charged. The onus rests on him; and the jury must be satisfied that he actually was insane. If the matter is left in doubt, it will be their duty to convict him; for every man must be presumed to be responsible for his acts until the contrary is clearly shown." The same judge, in Regina v. Layton, 4 Cox C.C. 149, 155, which was also a case of murder and the defence insanity, after observing that in cases of that description it was a cardinal rule "that the burden of proving innocence rested on the party accused," said that the question for the jury was "not whether the person was of sound mind, but whether he had made out to their satisfaction that he was not of sound mind."
But the most deliberate and careful statement of the doctrine in the English courts is to be found in McNaghten's case, 10 Cl. & Fin. 200, 203, 210, decided in 1843. The accused having been found not guilty, on the ground of insanity, his trial became the subject of discussion in the House of Lords, and much was said about insane delusions and partial insanity, as giving or not giving immunity for acts which, being committed by sane persons, were punishable criminally. The judges were summoned to give their opinion on that question,
It would seem that later cases in Massachusetts do not go to the extent indicated by the above cases. In Commonwealth v. Heath etc., 11 Gray, 303, which was tried before Justices Dewey, Metcalf, and Thomas, the charge was murder, and one question was whether the defendants were of sufficient intelligence to be responsible for a homicide. Upon this point, and as to the burden of proof, the court said: "The law presumes men and women of the age of the prisoners to be sane, to be responsible agents. Where therefore a homicide is proved to have been committed in such way and under such circumstances as, when done by a person of sane mind, would constitute murder, the presumption of law, as of common sense and general experience, supplies that link. It presumes men to be sane till the contrary is shown. The presumption of law stands until it is met and overcome by the evidence in the case. This evidence may come, of course, as well from the witnesses for the Government as the witnesses for the defence; and when the evidence is all in, the jury must be satisfied, in order to convict the prisoner, not only of the doing of the acts which constitute murder, but that they proceeded from a responsible agent, one capable of committing the offence. This is the rule to be applied to a case where the defence is idiocy, an original defect and want of capacity. Whether the rule is modified where the defence relied upon is insanity, disease
In State v. Spencer, 1 Zabriskie, 196, 202, 212 (1846), which was a case of murder tried before Chief Justice Hornblower, it was said that "when the evidence of sanity on the one side, and of insanity on the other, leaves the scale in equal balance, or so nearly poised that the jury have a reasonable doubt of his sanity, then a man is to be considered sane and responsible for what he does;" and that the "proof of insanity at the time of committing the act, ought to be as clear and satisfactory, in order to acquit him on the ground of insanity, as the proof of committing the act ought to be, in order to find a sane man guilty." Again, in the same case: "If, in your opinion, it is clearly proved that the prisoner at the bar, at the time of the homicide, was unconscious that what he did was
We are unable to assent to the doctrine that in a prosecution for murder, the defence being insanity, and the fact of the killing with a deadly weapon being clearly established, it is the duty of the jury to convict where the evidence is equally balanced on the issue as to the sanity of the accused at the time of the killing. On the contrary, he is entitled to an acquittal of the specific crime charged if upon all the evidence there is reasonable doubt whether he was capable in law of committing crime.
No one, we assume, would wish either the courts or juries when trying a case of murder to disregard the humane principle, existing at common law and recognized in all the cases tending to support the charge of the court below, that, "to make a complete crime cognizable by human laws, there must be both a will and an act;" and "as a vicious will without a vicious act is no civil crime, so, on the other hand, an unwarrantable act without a vicious will is no crime at all. So that to constitute a crime against human laws, there must be, first, a vicious will; and, secondly, an unlawful act consequent upon such vicious will." 4 Bl. Com. 21. All this is implied in the accepted definition of murder; for it is of the very essence of that heinous crime that it be committed by a person of "sound memory and discretion," and with "malice aforethought," either express or implied. 4 Bl. Com. 195; 3 Inst. 47; 2 Chitty's Cr. Law, 476. Such was the view of the court below which took care in its charge to say that the crime of murder could only be committed by a sane being,
One who takes human life cannot be said to be actuated by malice aforethought, or to have deliberately intended to take life, or to have "a wicked, depraved, and malignant heart," or a heart "regardless of society duty and fatally bent on mischief," unless at the time he had sufficient mind to comprehend the criminality or the right and wrong of such an act. Although the killing of one human being by another human being with a deadly weapon is presumed to be malicious until the contrary appears, yet, "in order to constitute a crime, a person must have intelligence and capacity enough to have a criminal intent and purpose; and if his reason and mental powers are either so deficient that he has no will, no conscience, of controlling mental power, or if, through the overwhelming violence of mental disease, his intellectual power is for the time obliterated, he is not a responsible moral agent, and is not punishable for criminal acts." Commonwealth v. Rogers, 7 Met. (Mass.) 500. Neither in the adjudged cases nor in the elementary treatises upon criminal law is there to be found any dissent from these general propositions. All admit that the crime of murder necessarily involves the possession by the accused of such mental capacity as will render him criminally responsible for his acts.
Upon whom then must rest the burden of proving that the accused, whose life it is sought to take under the forms of law, belongs to a class capable of committing crime? On principle, it must rest upon those who affirm that he has committed the crime for which he is indicted. That burden is not fully discharged, nor is there any legal right to take the life of the accused, until guilt is made to appear from all the evidence in the case. The plea of not guilty is unlike a special plea in a civil action, which, admitting the case averred, seeks to establish substantive ground of defence by a preponderance of evidence. It is not in confession and avoidance, for it is a plea that controverts the existence of every fact essential to constitute the crime charged. Upon that plea the accused
This view is not at all inconsistent with the presumption which the law, justified by the general experience of mankind as well as by considerations of public safety, indulges in favor of sanity. If that presumption were not indulged the government would always be under the necessity of adducing affirmative evidence of the sanity of an accused. But a requirement of that character would seriously delay and embarrass the enforcement of the laws against crime, and in most cases be unnecessary. Consequently the law presumes that every one charged with crime is sane, and thus supplies in the first instance the required proof of capacity to commit crime. It authorizes the jury to assume at the outset that the accused is criminally responsible for his acts. But that is not a conclusive presumption, which the law upon grounds of public policy forbids to be overthrown or impaired by opposing proof. It is a disputable or, as it is often designated, a rebuttable presumption resulting from the connection ordinarily existing between certain facts — such connection not being "so intimate, nor so nearly universal, as to render it expedient that it should be absolutely and imperatively presumed to exist in every case, all evidence to the contrary being rejected; but yet it is so general, and so nearly universal, that the law itself, without the aid of a jury, infers the one fact from the proved existence of the other, in the absence of all opposing evidence." 1 Greenl. Ev. § 38. It is therefore a presumption that is liable to be overcome or to be so far impaired in a particular case that it cannot be safely or properly made the basis of action in that case, especially if the inquiry involves human life. In a certain sense it may be true that where the defence is insanity, and where the case made by the prosecution discloses nothing whatever in excuse or extenuation of the crime charged, the accused is bound to produce some evidence that will impair or weaken the force of the legal presumption
In considering the distinction between the presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt, this court, in Coffin v. United States, upon full consideration, said: "The presumption of innocence is a conclusion drawn by the law in favor of the citizen, by virtue whereof, when brought to trial upon a criminal charge, he must be acquitted, unless he is proven to be guilty. In other words, this presumption is an instrument of proof created by the law in favor of one accused, whereby his innocence is established until sufficient evidence is introduced to overcome the proof which the law has created. This presumption on the one hand, supplemented by any other evidence he may adduce, and the evidence against him on the other, constitute the elements from which the legal conclusion of his guilt or innocence is to be drawn." Reasonable doubt it was also said was "the result of the proof, not the proof itself; whereas the presumption of innocence is one of the instruments of proof, going to bring about the proof, from which reasonable doubt arises; thus one is a cause, the other an effect. To say that the one is the equivalent of the other is, therefore, to say that legal evidence can be excluded from the jury, and that such exclusion may be cured by instructing them correctly in regard to the method by which they are required to reach their conclusion upon the proof actually before them." Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432, 459, 460.
Strictly speaking, the burden of proof, as those words are understood in criminal law, is never upon the accused to establish his innocence or to disprove the facts necessary to establish the crime for which he is indicted. It is on the prosecution from the beginning to the end of the trial and applies to every element necessary to constitute the crime. Giving to the prosecution, where the defence is insanity, the
The views we have expressed are supported by many adjudications that are entitled to high respect. If such were not the fact, we might have felt obliged to accept the general doctrine announced in some of the above cases; for it is desirable that there be uniformity of rule in the administration of the criminal law in governments whose constitutions equally recognize the fundamental principles that are deemed essential for the protection of life and liberty.
In People v. McCann, 16 N.Y. 58, a case of murder, the jury were instructed that if any reasonable doubt existed as to the proof of the deed itself the prisoner should be acquitted; "but as sanity is the natural state, there is no presumption of insanity, and the defence must be proved beyond a reasonable
The same principle is recognized in New Hampshire. Bellows, J., speaking for the court, after observing that a plea of not guilty, in a criminal cause, puts in issue all the allegations of the indictment, said: "A system of rules, therefore, by which the burthen is shifted upon the accused of showing that any of the substantial allegations are untrue, or, in other words, to prove a negative is purely artificial and formal, and utterly at war with the humane principle which, in favorem vitœ, requires the guilt of the prisoner to be established beyond reasonable doubt." Again, in the same case, after saying that to justify a conviction, all the elements of the crime charged must be shown to exist, and to a moral certainty, including the facts of a sound memory, an unlawful killing and malice, he proceeded: "As to the first, the natural presumption of sanity is prima facie proof of a sound memory, and that must stand unless there is other evidence tending to prove the contrary; and then whether it come from the one side or the other in weighing it, the defendant is entitled to the benefit of all reasonable doubt, just the same as upon the point of an unlawful killing or malice. Indeed, the want of sound memory repels the proof of malice in the same way as proof that the killing was accidental, in self-defence, or in heat of blood; and there can be no solid distinction founded upon the
So in People v. Garbutt, 17 Michigan, 9, 22, the court, speaking by Chief Justice Cooley, after observing that the prosecution may rest upon the presumption of sanity until that presumption is overthrown by the defendant's evidence, said: "Nevertheless, it is a part of the case for the government; the fact which it supports must necessarily be established before any conviction can be had; and when the jury come to consider the whole case upon the evidence delivered to them, they must do so upon the basis that on each and every portion of it they are to be reasonably satisfied before they are at liberty to find the defendant guilty."
In Cunningham v. State, 56 Mississippi, 269, the question was carefully examined and the rule was stated by Chalmers, J., to be, that whenever the condition of the prisoner's mind is put in issue by such facts proved on either side as create a reasonable doubt of his sanity, it devolves upon the State to remove it and to establish the sanity of the prisoner to the satisfaction of the jury beyond all reasonable doubt arising out of all the evidence in the case.
In Dove v. State, 3 Heiskell, 348, 371, Chief Justice Nicholson, delivering the unanimous opinion of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, thus stated its view of the question: "When the
It seems to us that undue stress is placed in some of the cases upon the fact that, in prosecutions for murder the defence of insanity is frequently resorted to and is sustained by the
For the reason stated, and without alluding to other matters in respect to which error is assigned, the judgment is reversed and the cause remanded with directions to grant a new trial, and for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.