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State v. Mitchell

Supreme Court of North Carolina
Sep 1, 1896
119 N.C. 784 (N.C. 1896)

Summary

In Mitchell v. State, 82 Md. 527, 34 A. 246 (1896), this Court, by dictum, indicated that in cases in which the trial judge had the power to impose sentence without definite limit, it was possible to violate the Constitutional provision prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment, but no such case appears to have ever occurred in Maryland.

Summary of this case from Bartholomey v. State

Opinion

(September Term, 1896.)

Bastardy Proceedings — Oath and Examination of Woman — Prima Facie Evidence — Constitutional Privilege of Accused to Confront Accuser and Witnesses — Waiver — Objection to Evidence.

1. On the trial of an appeal from a judgment of a justice of the peace in bastardy proceedings, the oath and examination of the woman is prima facie evidence of the defendant's guilt, and the burden is on him to exonerate himself from the charge.

2. The term "prima facie" is synonymous with the word "presumptive" as used in sec. 32 of The Code, in defining evidence that is to be received and treated as true "until rebutted by other testimony which may be introduced by the defendant."

3. The defendant in bastardy proceedings may waive the right guaranteed by sec. 11 of Art. II of the Constitution, to be informed of the accusation against him and to confront the accusers and witnesses face to face; and where, on the trial of an appeal from the judgment of a justice of the peace, the oath and examination of the woman taken before him is offered, the defendant will be deemed to have waived such constitutional privilege where he does not in express terms insist on the bodily presence of the prosecutrix on the witness stand, and a general objection to the evidence is not sufficient.

The defendant was arrested and brought before a justice of the peace upon the charge of bastardy. He entered the plea of not guilty, and offering no evidence upon the affidavit or complaint, he was adjudged to be the father of the child, and judgment was entered against him accordingly. He appealed to the Superior Court of Wilson, where at June Term, 1896, a jury was empaneled.

Attorney-General and Perrin Busbee for the State.

No counsel contra.


(CLARK, J., dissents, arguendo.)


June Term, 1896, before Boykin, J. His Honor charged the (785) jury that the oath and examination of the prosecutrix taken before the justice of the peace was under the statute prima facie evidence of defendant's guilt, and that the burden was upon defendant to exonerate himself from the charge so made against him. To this charge the defendant excepted and appealed from the judgment rendered.


The charge that the oath and examination of the mother of the bastard child was prima facie evidence of the defendant's guilt, was not erroneous. S. v. Rogers, 79 N.C. 609; The Code, sec. 32. Prima facie evidence is that which is received or continues until the contrary is shown. Kelly v. Johnson, 6 Peters (U.S.), 622. It is clear from the terms of the Statute (Code, sec. 32) that the word "presumptive" is used there to define evidence that must be received and treated as true "till rebutted by other testimony, which may be introduced by the defendant," and that it is therefore synonymous with prima facie. We see no force in the suggestion that there was error in the use of one of the terms rather than the other.

Another ground of objection to the competency of the written examination of the mother is that its admission was a violation of the Constitution, Article I, sec. 11. That section provides that "in all criminal prosecutions every man has the right to be informed of the accusations against him, and to confront the accusers and witnesses with other testimony.

Conceding that since the begetting of a bastard child has been made a criminal offense, the accused has the right to insist upon the (786) production of his accusers, it is nevertheless, a right that is waived by failure to assert it in apt time like the guaranty contained in the same section, that he shall not be compelled to give evidence against himself. The application of the principle to the crimination of a party by his own testimony is so common in practice, as to have become familiar learning. When asked the criminating question it is the privilege of the witness to determine whether it is preferable to answer, or to ask the protection of his constitutional right. Indeed, it is a general rule that a party may waive the benefit of a constitutional as well as a statutory provision. Sedgwick Stat. and Const. Law, p. 111. The right may be waived either by express consent, by failure to assert it in apt time or by conduct inconsistent with a purpose to insist upon it. Sedgwick, supra; Lee v. Tillotson, 24 Wend., 337; Const., Article I, sec. 19; Code, sec. 398; Reynolds v. U.S., 98 U.S. 145; S. v. Behrman, 114 N.C. 797; S. v. Thomas, 64 N.C. 74; Driller Co. v. Worth, 118 N.C. 746, and same case, 117 N.C. 515. It is settled law in North Carolina, that the more important privilege of being present in person, so as to confront one's accusers on trial for a criminal offense, may, except in capital felonies, be waived by counsel. S. v. Jacobs, 107 N.C. 772; S. v. Weaver, 35 N.C. 203; S. v. Paylor, 89 N.C. 539; S. v. Kelly, 97 N.C. 404. For like reasons, one who is actually or constructively present at the trial of an indictment against him for offenses of the lower grade must be deemed to have waived when he does not in express terms insist upon the bodily presence of the prosecutrix on the witness stand. The Legislature has made a defendant a competent witness on the trial of an indictment against himself. He may exercise this privilege or not, but if he once elects to go upon the stand he is deemed to have (787) waived his right to refuse to answer questions intended to elicit self-criminating testimony from him, where such questions would have been competent on the examination of other witnesses. S. v. Thomas, 98 N.C. 599; S. v. Allen, 107 N.C. 805. Where a statute gives a prisoner the privilege of taking depositions outside of the State upon condition that the State shall have the like right, it has been held that he waives the benefit of the constitutional privilege by the exercise of the right to avail himself of such testimony. Butler v. State, 97 Ind. 378. He takes the new statutory privilege upon the condition annexed by its provisions to its acceptance — that he shall thereby waive his constitutional right to face the witness. The Legislature clearly has the general power to pass statutes giving artificial weight to any particular kind of testimony in specified classes of criminal actions. S. v. Burton, 113 N.C. 655, and cases there cited. The statute (Code, sec. 32) must be enforced till it comes in conflict with the Constitution. The broad exception to the admissibility of the oath and examination of the woman, is sufficient to raise the question which we first discussed; but if the defendant intended to throw himself upon his constitutional privileges, which he might at his option waive or demand, it was incumbent on him to object on the specific ground that he insisted upon the right to have the woman introduced, and to be confronted by her as his accusser [accuser]. Had the defendant pursued this course, it may be that the solicitor would have had the prosecutrix sworn and tended her for cross-examination. Such an offer unquestionably would have afforded him the opportunity contemplated by the Constitution of meeting his antagonist face to face. S. v. Thomas, 64 N.C. 74. This general assignment of error in admitting a document declared competent by statute no more raises the constitutional question, than would an exception (788) to criminating testimony given by a witness without objection on the specific ground that it might subject him to punishment. The constitutional right, if it existed, was waived by the failure to object to the testimony, because the right guaranteed to him was not that he should be compelled to confront his accuser in a case like that before us, but that he might on demand have her compelled to meet him "face to face."

NO ERROR.


Summaries of

State v. Mitchell

Supreme Court of North Carolina
Sep 1, 1896
119 N.C. 784 (N.C. 1896)

In Mitchell v. State, 82 Md. 527, 34 A. 246 (1896), this Court, by dictum, indicated that in cases in which the trial judge had the power to impose sentence without definite limit, it was possible to violate the Constitutional provision prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment, but no such case appears to have ever occurred in Maryland.

Summary of this case from Bartholomey v. State

In S. v. Mitchell, 119 N.C. 784, it is said that a party may waive the benefit of a constitutional as well as a statutory provision either by express consent or by failure to assert it in apt time or by conduct inconsistent with a purpose to insist upon it.

Summary of this case from State v. Luquire

In Mitchell v. State, 82 Md. 527 (1896) it was held that where the punishment is grossly disproportionate to the offense so that the sentence is evidently dictated not by a sense of public duty, but by passion, prejudice, ill-will or any other unworthy motive, the judgment ought to be reversed and the cause remanded for a more just sentence.

Summary of this case from Brooks v. Warden
Case details for

State v. Mitchell

Case Details

Full title:STATE v. WALTER MITCHELL

Court:Supreme Court of North Carolina

Date published: Sep 1, 1896

Citations

119 N.C. 784 (N.C. 1896)
25 S.E. 783

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