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THE UNITED STATES, PLAINTIFFS, v. THOMAS REID AND EDWARD CLEMENTS.

December 1, 1851

THE UNITED STATES, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THOMAS REID AND EDWARD CLEMENTS.



THIS case came up from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Virginia, upon a certificate of division in opinion between the judges thereof. The facts are all stated in the opinion of the court. It was argued by Mr. Joynes and Mr. Crittenden, (Attorney-General,) for the United States, and by Mr. Crane and Mr. Scott, for the defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: 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 ...


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