Hodgson v. Vermont , 168 U.S. 262 ( 1897 )

  • 168 U.S. 262 (1897)


    No. 26.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Argued October 14, 15, 1897.
    Decided November 29, 1897.

    *267 Mr. E.J. Phelps for plaintiff in error. Mr. W.H. Bliss was on his brief.

    Mr. Frank L. Fish and Mr. Charles A. Prouty for defendant in error.

    MR. JUSTICE SHIRAS, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

    At a former term of this court, in the case of O'Neil v. Vermont, 144 U.S. 323, we were asked to hold certain provisions of the laws of the State of Vermont, concerning the importation and sale of intoxicating liquors, void, because they *268 conflicted with the Constitution of the United States wherein it confers upon Congress exclusive power to regulate interstate commerce and forbids cruel and unusual punishments. But the court was of opinion that the record in that case did not disclose that any Federal question had been raised or decided in the Supreme Court of Vermont, and the writ of error was accordingly dismissed.

    In the present case the assignments of error raised no question as to the character of the punishment inflicted upon the accused. Nor do the facts of the present case call upon us to consider the validity of those portions of the Vermont statutes which concern intoxicating liquors as articles of interstate commerce.

    But certain Federal questions are sufficiently presented in this record, which have been argued with great ability, and which it is our duty to now consider.

    The first contention is that the information under which the plaintiff in error was tried and convicted was defective in such essential particulars as to deprive him of his liberty and property without "due process of law." It is said that the information does not charge any specific offence; that it does not state with any reasonable certainty the time when the offences charged, or any or either of them, occurred; that the name of no person to whom liquor was alleged to have been sold, furnished or given away is stated; that neither the place where the sales are claimed to have taken place, the kind or quantity of intoxicating liquor so disposed of, nor any other circumstance that would tend to identify the transactions referred to, is stated; that such an information does not protect the accused the least against being prosecuted for one crime and convicted of another; that under this information it is and must remain utterly uncertain what particular one of many offences the accused was convicted of; that the record of an acquittal or conviction upon such an information forms no bar to a second prosecution for the same offence.

    While we are not relieved from considering these objections by the mere fact that the offences charged arose under a statute, and were proceeded in, in a court of a State, it is *269 yet obvious that our concern in them can go no further than to inquire whether the plaintiff in error was deprived of the rights and immunities secured to him by the Federal Constitution.

    Several of the objections specified merely raise questions of form, and, as such, were conclusively ruled by the state court. But it is insisted that in all criminal prosecutions the accused must be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him; that in no case can there be, in criminal proceedings, due process of law where the accused is not thus informed, and that the information which he is to receive is that which will acquaint him with the essential particulars of the offence, so that he may appear in court prepared to meet every feature of the accusation against him.

    Conceding that this is a correct statement of the rights of an accused person, and that, if deprived of such rights, he may properly invoke the protection of the Constitution of the United States, our reading of this record has not satisfied us that the plaintiff in error has any just grounds of complaint. We adopt, in this regard, the views and language of the Supreme Court of the State:

    "The offence created by the statute is the provision of intoxicating liquors without the authority of law, either by sale, furnishing or giving away. There are no circumstances necessary to be set out to constitute either of these facts an offence. The terms of the statute as clearly import the prohibited offence as any terms can. The offence is neither heightened nor lessened by, nor dependent upon, the kind or amount of intoxicating liquors sold, nor upon the person to whom the sale, furnishing or giving away is made, nor upon the amount of money received, nor upon whether made by the respondent or by some one for him. None of these particulars need be set forth to notify the respondent of the offence with which he is charged, and called upon to answer, nor to apprise the jury of what they are to convict or acquit him, nor to apprise the court of the sentence which it should impose. The prescribed form covers the offence in the exact and easily understood language of the statute which creates *270 it. This is sufficient... . It is not an ancient crime which has been, from time immemorial, clothed in special terms which, by long use, have become the most apt and definite ones to describe the exact crime. The statute sometimes prescribes the punishment of a common law crime without defining it, or creates an offence and prescribes no form for an information. In such cases it is well held that the common law requirements in charging it must be met... . But it is sufficient to charge a statutory offence in the terms of the statute... . The respondent contends that the prescribed form is defective, in that it does not require the names of the persons to whom sales are claimed to have been made to be set forth; that sales must be made to some person. But this contention is based on the requirements of the common law, when applicable. The specifications ordinarily would, and did in this case, supply the information... . It is also contended that the particulars of the kind of liquor, price, and name of the person to whom sold should be set forth in the information, both to apprise the respondent of the evidence he has to meet, and to have the record protect him from a second information for the same offence. It is never necessary for the State to disclose what is merely its proof of the commission of the offence charged in the information. If the record does not itself identify the offence or offences for which conviction has been had, on the trial of a subsequent prosecution, such identification may be made by parol testimony. If these particulars were set out in the information, resort might have to be had to parol proof to identify the offence for which conviction was had. It might occur that the same respondent made more than one sale of the same kind and quantity of liquor, to the same person, at the same price, at the same place and on the same day. Besides by the common law it has always been held that the prosecutor need not set forth the name of the person, when unknown. It is sufficient to state that his name is unknown... . These particulars of the kind, quantity, price, and person to whom sold, are seldom known to the prosecutor until revealed by the witness upon the stand. Without these *271 particulars the prescribed form answers every essential requirement of the common law in regard to informations or indictments. The prescribed form sets forth in clear language, easily to be understood, `the cause and nature of the accusation.' ... By the use of the words `at divers times' on the day named, it notifies him that he may be called upon to meet more than one offence committed in one of the ways named. The prosecution is never confined to prove the offence on the day specified in the information, if the proof is within the time limited for the prosecution of the offence. The accused can of right call upon the prosecutor to specify more fully what is claimed to be included under these general terms. This is analogous to the common counts in assumpsit in civil cases, which grew up under the common law. The defendant in a civil case is entitled to notice of what he is called upon to meet, as much as a respondent in a criminal case, and for the same reasons. Under these common counts it has always been held that the plaintiff might show any number of claims of the class described, and for this reason, that the defendant was entitled, as a matter of right, to a bill of particulars, or specifications, and that such specifications supplied what was lacking by the generality of the count, in regard to the particulars and number of similar claims which the plaintiff would call upon the defendant to litigate. In this view, the information, aided by specifications, is good by the rules of the common law; but, whether it be or not, the legislature has an undoubted right to change and mould the forms of procedure so long as it does not deprive the accused of any constitutional right... . This class of cases is not exceptional in their manner of trial. They are proceeded with like all other cases. The selection and empanelling of the jury, the rules of evidence, burden of proof, and procedure in the trial, is the same as in all other criminal cases. What has been said in regard to the scope of the information, aided by specifications, to which the respondent was entitled as a matter of right, and which were furnished to him, and in regard to the order and manner of his trial, makes the respondent's trial a trial by `due process *272 of law,' or in accordance with `the law of the land,' within the varying definitions of those general terms as claimed by the respondent's counsel." State v. Hodgson, 66 Vermont, 134, 150.

    It is argued that the defects or insufficiencies of the information cannot be supplied by the specification, because the latter is not required by any statute and is not a matter of right. If this assumption was well founded it would strengthen the criticism urged against the information. But that such assumption is not well founded is shown by the opinion of the Supreme Court of Vermont above quoted, wherein it is held that the accused under these proceedings is entitled to a specification as a matter of right.

    The defendant being entitled to a specification as a matter of right, under the decision of the Supreme Court of the State, the question of the validity of the information in the absence of any specification is not presented by this case, and we therefore express no opinion upon it.

    It is further claimed that the conviction of the plaintiff and his sentence to infamous punishment was without due process of law, because he was not indicted by a grand jury. Discussion of this contention is unnecessary, because it was the very matter considered in Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516, where it was ruled that the words "due process of law" in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States do not necessarily require an indictment by a grand jury in a prosecution by a State for murder. The views expressed in that case have been approved and followed in a number of subsequent cases, of which a few may be cited. Barbier v. Connolly, 113 U.S. 27; In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436; Ex parte Converse, 137 U.S. 624; Hallinger v. Davis, 146 U.S. 314.

    We concede the proposition, so earnestly urged on behalf of the plaintiff in error, that by the Fourteenth Amendment it is made the right and the consequent duty of this court, when a case has been duly brought before it, to inquire whether, in the enactment and administration of the criminal laws of a State, it is sought to arbitrarily deprive any person of his life, liberty or property, or to refuse him the equal *273 protection of the laws, and that such inquiry is not precluded or ended by the mere fact that the judgment complained of was reached by proceedings in a state court in pursuance of the provisions of a state statute. But we are contented to close this discussion by quoting the language of this court in Ex parte Converse, 137 U.S. 624: "We repeat, as so often has been said before, that the Fourteenth Amendment undoubtedly forbids any arbitrary deprivation of life, liberty or property, and in the administration of criminal justice requires that no different or higher punishment shall be imposed on one than is imposed on all for like offences, but it was not designed to interfere with the power of the State to protect the lives, liberty and property of its citizens; nor with the exercise of that power in the adjudications of the courts of a State in administering the process provided by the law of the State."

    Finding no error therein, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Vermont is


Document Info

DocketNumber: 26

Citation Numbers: 168 U.S. 262, 18 S. Ct. 80, 42 L. Ed. 461, 1897 U.S. LEXIS 1723

Judges: Shiras, After Stating the Case

Filed Date: 11/29/1897

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 5/4/2017

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