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Sparf and Hansen v. United States, 156 U.S. 51 (1895)

Sparf and Hansen v. United States

No. 613

Submitted March 5, 1894

Decided January 21, 1895

156 U.S. 51


If one of two persons accused of having together committed the crime of murder makes a voluntary confession in the presence of the other under such circumstances that he would naturally have contradicted it if he did not assent, the confession is admissible in evidence against both.

If two persons are indicted and tried jointly for murder, declarations of one made after the killing and in the absence of the other tending to prove the guilt of both are admissible in evidence against the one making the declarations, but not against the other.

An objection to the admissibility of such evidence, made at the trial in the name of both defendants, on the general ground that it was irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent, furnishes, if the testimony be admitted, sufficient ground in case of conviction for bringing the case to this Court, and warrants the reversal of the conviction of the defendant against whom it was not admissible.

Confession of a person imprisoned and in irons, under an accusation of having committed a capital offence, are admissible in evidence against him, if they appear to have been voluntary, and not obtained by putting him in fear or by promises.

Section 1035 of the Revised Statutes does not authorize a jury in a criminal case to find the defendant guilty of a less offense than the one charged unless the evidence justifies it, but it enables the jury, in case the defendant is not shown to be guilty of the particular crime charged, to find him guilty of a lesser offense necessarily included in the one charged, or of the attempt to commit the one charged, when the evidence permits that to be done.

In the courts of the United States, it is the duty of the jury, in criminal cases, to receive the law from the court, and to apply it as given by the court, subject to the condition that, by a general verdict, a jury of necessity determines both law and fact as compounded in the issue submitted to them in the particular case.

In criminal cases, it is competent for the court to instruct the jury as to the legal presumptions arising from a given state of facts, but it may not, by a peremptory instruction, require the jury to find the accused guilty of the offense charged, nor of any offense less than that charged.

On the trial in a court of the United States of a person accused of committing the crime of murder, if there be no evidence upon which the jury can properly find the defendant guilty of an offense included in or less than the one charged, it is not error to instruct them that they cannot return a verdict of guilty of manslaughter, or of any offense less than

Page 156 U. S. 52

the one charged, and in such case, if the defendant was not guilty of the offense charged, it is the duty of the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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