SNYDER V. MASSACHUSETTS, 291 U. S. 97 (1934)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97 (1934)

Snyder v. Massachusetts

No. 241

Argued November 7, 1933

Decided January 8, 1934

291 U.S. 97


1. So far as the Fourteenth Amendment is concerned, the presence of the defendant in a prosecution for felony is a condition of due process to the extent that a fair and just hearing would be thwarted by his absence, and to that extent only. P. 291 U. S. 105.

2. In a state prosecution for murder, the accused was denied permission to attend a view, which was ordered by the court on motion of the prosecution, at the opening of the trial. The jurors, under a sworn bailiff, visited the scene of the crime, accompanied by the judge, the counsel for both parties and the court stenographer. The counsel, acting as showers by the permission of the judge, pointed out particular features of the scene and asked the jurors to observe them, but there was no statement of the evidence. A stenographic record was made of everything that was said or done. The defendant, at the trial, virtually admitted that the place visited was the right one, and if there had been failure to point out anything material, he had full opportunity to prove the fact and ask for another view. Held, that the viewing in the absence of the accused was not a denial of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 291 U. S. 108.

3. Statements to the jury pointing out the specific objects to be noticed have been a traditional accompaniment of a view in England and in this country, and this procedure was not displaced by the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 291 U. S. 110.

4. Designation of counsel for the parties as the showers is also an ancient practice, and cannot be prejudicial to the defendant. P. 291 U. S. 113.

5. Assuming that the knowledge derived from a view is evidence, still a view is not a trial, nor any part of a trial, in the sense in which a trial was understood at common law. P. 291 U. S. 113.

Page 291 U. S. 98

6. To transfer to a view the constitutional privileges applicable to a trial would be forgetful of history. P. 291 U. S. 114.

7. Irrespective of whether a view be labeled as part of the "trial," and the knowledge so derived as "evidence," the question whether exclusion of the defendant not by a statutory mandate, but by a discretionary ruling of the court, violates due process of law is determined by conceptions of fairness and justice applied to the particular facts. P. 291 U. S. 114.

8. A statement made by the judge during a view in the absence of the defendant, to the effect that one of the structures pointed out was not there at the homicide -- held improper, but harmless, both because it was not material and because it was confirmed by the accused and his counsel at the trial. P. 291 U. S. 118.

9. A view constitutionally taken in the absence of the defendant is not to be adjudged unconstitutional because the court told the jury it was evidence. P. 291 U. S. 121.

282 Mass. 401; 185 N.E. 376, affirmed.

CERTIORARI, 290 U.S. 606, to review a judgment entered on the affirmance of a conviction of murder.

Page 291 U. S. 102

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