BIRD V. UNITED STATES, 187 U. S. 118 (1902)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bird v. United States, 187 U.S. 118 (1902)

Bird v. United States

No. 306

Argued October 14, 1902

Decided November 17, 1902

187 U.S. 118


Bird was twice tried and found guilty of the crime of murder and sentenced to death by the District Court of the United States for the District of Alaska; while an appeal from the first trial was pending in this Court, which resulted in reversal, 180 U. S. 180 U.S. 366, Congress passed the Act of March 31, 1899, to "define and punish crimes in the District of Alaska and to provide a code of criminal procedure for said district," which went into effect July 1, 1899; on June 6, 1900, Congress passed another act for Alaska "making further provision for a civil government in Alaska and for other purposes." On the second trial, plaintiff in error contended that these acts deprived the trial court of jurisdiction and that the Act of March 17, 1884, establishing the District Court for Alaska, was entirely repealed and superseded by the Act of June 6, 1900, and the District Court for Alaska, to which the indictment was returned, was thereby abolished; motions to strike from the docket and in arrest of judgment were denied.

(1) Held that this was not error, as the Acts of March 3, 1899, and June 6, 1900, together constituted a part of the scheme for the government of Alaska, and it is manifest from the provision in section 219 of the Act of March 3, 1899, that

"nothing therein contained shall apply to or affect in any way any proceeding or indictment now found or pending, or that may be found for any offence committed before the passage of this act."

That Congress did not intend by the Act of June 6, 1900, to affect the prosecution of prior offenses.

The tribunal provided for by the Act of June 6, 1900, whether newly created or an existing one continued, has jurisdiction of all criminal cases embraced by the provision of the Act of March 3, 1899.

There is a presumption against a construction which would render a statute ineffective or inefficient, or which would cause grave public injury or even inconvenience.

(2) Where a female witness for the prosecution is designated on the trial indictment and the list of witnesses given to the defendant on the trial by her maiden name, which was the name by which she was known at the time, although she had been married and divorced and had subsequently borne the name of another man with whom she lived, the trial court properly overruled the objections of the plaintiff in error to the testimony on the ground that the name so designated was not her name.

Page 187 U. S. 119

The purpose of section 1033 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, requiring that, in capital cases, the list of witnesses be given to the defendant at least two days before the trial is to point out the persons who may testify against him, and this is best accomplished by the name the witness bears at the time, and not some name that the witness may have had at a prior time.

(3) It was not error to charge a jury,

"But, in determining this matter under the evidence before you, you must consider the situation of the parties at the time and all the surrounding circumstances, together with the testimony of the witness for the prosecution as well as the evidence of the defendant,"

on the ground that it in effect declared that, even if the testimony of the witnesses for the government were untrue, it was to be considered in delivering the verdict, and because all the defendant's evidence (except his own) was withdrawn from the jury on the issue of self-defense, as it appears that the jury were also instructed that it was their duty "to consider the whole evidence and render a verdict in accordance with the facts proved upon the trial."

(4) There was no error in the following instruction:

"Evidence has been offered of the escape of the defendant, or attempted escape, after arrest on the charge on which the defendant is now being tried. This evidence is admitted on the theory that the defendant is in fear of the consequences of his crime and is attempting to escape therefrom -- in other words, that guilt may be inferred from the fact of escape from custody. The court instructs you that the inference that may be drawn from an escape is strong or slight according to the facts surrounding the party at the time. If a party is caught in the act of crime and speedily makes an attempt for liberty under desperate circumstances, the inference of guilt would be strong, but if the attempt was made after many months of confinement and escape comparatively without danger, then the inference of guilt to be drawn from an escape is slight; but whether the inference of guilt is strong or slight depends upon the conditions and circumstances surrounding the accused person at the time."

(5) The trial court rightly, refused at the defendant's request, to give the jury any instructions defining principal and accessory, or to submit to the jury to determine whether certain other persons were accomplices, as there were no facts in the case to justify it, and the defendant himself testified that he had acted in self-defense.

The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.

Page 187 U. S. 120

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