HURTADO V. CALIFORNIA, 110 U. S. 516 (1884)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516 (1884)

Hurtado v. California

Argued January 22d, 23d 1884.

Decided March 3d, 1884

110 U.S. 516


1. 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.

2. The Constitution of California authorizes prosecutions for felonies by information, after examination and commitment by a magistrate, without indictment by a grand jury, in the discretion of the legislature. The Penal Code of the State makes provision for an examination by a magistrate, in the presence of the accused, who is entitled to the aid of counsel

Page 110 U. S. 517

and the right of cross-examination of witnesses, whose testimony is to to reduced to writing and upon a certificate thereon by the magistrate that a described offence has been committed and that here is sufficient cause to believe the accused guilty thereof, and an order holding him to answer thereto, requires an information to be filed against the accused in the Superior court of the county in which the offence is triable in the form of an indictment for the same offence. Held, that a conviction upon such an information for murder in the first degree and a sentence of death thereon are not illegal by virtue of that clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which prohibits the States from depriving any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

The Constitution of the State of California, adopted in 1879, in article I., section 8, provides as follows:

"Offences heretofore required to be prosecuted by indictment shall be prosecuted by information, after examination and commitment by a magistrate, or by indictment, with or without such examination and commitment, as may be prescribed by law. A grand jury shall be drawn and summoned at least once a year in each county."

Various provisions of the Penal Code regulate proceedings before the examining and committing magistrate in cases of persons arrested and brought before him upon charges of having committed public offences. These require, among other things, that the testimony of the witnesses shall be reduced to writing in the form of depositions, and section 872 declares that, if it appears from the examination that a public offence has been committed, and there is sufficient cause to believe the defendant guilty thereof, the magistrate must indorse on the depositions an order, signed by him, to that effect, describing the general nature of the offence committed, and ordering that the defendant be held to answer thereto. Section 809 of the Penal Code is as follows:

"When a defendant has been examined and committed, as provided in section 872 of this Code, it shall be the duty of the district attorney, within thirty days thereafter, to file in the Superior Court of the county in which the offence is triable an information charging the defendant with such offence. The information shall

Page 110 U. S. 518

be in the name of the people of the State of California, and subscribed by the district attorney, and shall be in form like an indictment for the same offence."

In pursuance of the foregoing provision of the Constitution, and of the several sections of the Penal Code of California, the district attorney of Sacramento County, on the 20th day of February, 1882, made and filed an information against the plaintiff in error, charging him with the crime of murder in the killing of one Jose Antonio Stuardo. Upon this information, and without any previous investigation of the cause by any grand jury, the plaintiff in error was arraigned on the 22d day of March, 1882, and pleaded not guilty. A trial of the issue was thereafter had, and, on May 7th, 1882, the jury rendered its verdict in which it found the plaintiff in error guilty of murder in the first degree.

On the 5th day of June, 1882, the Superior Court of Sacramento County, in which the plaintiff in error had been tried, rendered its judgment upon said verdict that the said Joseph Hurtado, plaintiff in error, be punished by the infliction of death, and the day of his execution was fixed for the 20th day of July, 1882.

From this judgment, an appeal was taken, and the Supreme Court of the State of California affirmed the judgment.

On the 6th day of July, 1883, the Superior Court of said county of Sacramento ordered that the plaintiff in error be in court on the 11th day of July, 1883, in order that a day for the execution of the judgment in said cause should be fixed. In pursuance of said order, plaintiff in error, with his counsel, appeared at the bar of the court, and thereupon the judge asked him if he had any legal reason to urge why said judgment should not be executed, and why an order should not then be made fixing the day for the execution of the same.

Thereupon, the plaintiff in error, by his counsel, objected to the execution of said judgment and to any order which the court might make fixing a day for the execution of the same, upon the grounds:

"7th. That it appeared upon the face of the judgment that the

Page 110 U. S. 519

plaintiff in error had never been legally, or otherwise, indicted or presented by any grand jury, and that he was proceeded against by information made and filed by the district attorney of the county of Sacramento, after examination and commitment by a magistrate of the said county."

"8th. That the said proceedings, as well as the laws and Constitution of California, attempting to authorize them, and the alleged verdict of the jury, and judgment of the said Superior Court of said county of Sacramento, were in conflict with and prohibited by the Fifth and Fourteenth Articles of Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and that they were therefore void."

"9th. That the said plaintiff in error had been held to answer for the said crime of murder by the district attorney of the said county of Sacramento, upon an information filed by him, and had been tried and illegally found guilty of the said crime without any presentment or indictment of any grand or other jury, and that the judgment rendered upon the alleged verdict of the jury in such case was and is void, and, if executed, would deprive the plaintiff in error of his life or liberty without due process of law."

Thereupon the court overruled the said objections and fixed the 30th day of August, 1883, as the time for the execution of the sentence. From this latter judgment, the plaintiff in error appealed to the Supreme Court of the State.

On the 18th day of September, 1883, the Supreme Court of the State affirmed the said judgment, to review which the present writ of error was allowed and has been prosecuted.

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