MOTES V. UNITED STATES, 178 U. S. 458 (1900)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Motes v. United States, 178 U.S. 458 (1900)

Motes v. United States

No. 257

Submitted April 23, 1900

Decided May 21, 1900

178 U.S. 458


By the Revised Statutes of the United States, it is provided:

"§ 5508. If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; or if two or more persons go in disguise on the highway, or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured, they shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars and imprisoned not more than ten years, and shall, moreover, be thereafter ineligible to any office or place of honor, profit, or trust created by the Constitution or laws of the United States."

"§ 5509. If in the act of violating any provision in either of the two preceding sections, any other felony or misdemeanor be committed, the offender shall be punished for the same with such punishment as is attached to such felony or misdemeanor by the laws of the state in which the offence is committed."

Several persons were indicted under the above provisions in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Alabama for the crime of murder committed in execution of a conspiracy to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate one Thompson because of his having informed the United States authorities of violations by the conspirators of the laws of the United States relating to distilling. In Alabama, murder in the first degree is punishable by death or imprisonment for life at the discretion of the jury. At the preliminary trial before a United States commissioner, Taylor, one of the accused, testified, and his evidence was put in writing and signed by him. It was sufficient, if accepted, to establish

Page 178 U. S. 459

the guilt of all the defendants. The accused had opportunity to cross-examine him. At the final trial in the circuit court, Taylor, who had pleaded guilty, was called as a witness for the government, but did not respond. He had disappeared, although seen in the corridor of the court building about an hour before being called. His absence was not by the procurement or advice of the accused, but was due to the negligence of the officers of the government. The court, over the objections of the accused, allowed Taylor's written statements made under oath at the examining trial to be read in evidence to the trial jury. The accused were found guilty as charged in the indictment and sentenced to the penitentiary for life. At the trial, one of the accused testified and stated that he and Taylor committed the murder, and that the other defendants knew nothing of it and had nothing to do with it. Held:

(1) That no constitutional objection could be urged against sections 5508 and 5509.

(2) That, under the Act of January 15, 1897, c. 29, 29 Stat. 487, the Circuit Court could not have imposed the penalty of death for the offense charged, but only imprisonment for life.

(3) That, under the Circuit Court of Appeals Act, 1891, any criminal case involving the construction or application of the Constitution of the United States can be brought after final judgment directly to this Court from the Circuit Court.

(4) That the admission as evidence of the written statements made by Taylor at the examining trial was in violation of the rights of the accused under the clause of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States declaring that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to be confronted with the witness against him.

(5) That the defendant, who testified under oath as to his guilt, and whose testimony was sufficient to convict him independently of Taylor's written statement at the examining trial, was not entitled to a reversal for the error committed in allowing that statement to be read, because it could not have prejudiced him.

The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.

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