WILLIAMS V. NORTH CAROLINA, 317 U. S. 287 (1942)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. North Carolina, 317 U.S. 287 (1942)

Williams v. North Carolina

No. 29

Argued October 20, 1942

Decided December 21, 1942

317 U.S. 287


1. Where a conviction in a criminal prosecution is based upon a general verdict that does not specify the ground on which it rests, and one of the grounds upon which it may rest is invalid under the Federal Constitution, the judgment cannot be sustained. Stromberg v. California, 283 U. S. 359. P. 317 U. S. 292.

2. A man and a woman went from North Carolina to Nevada and, after residing there for a time sufficient to meet the requirement of a Nevada statute, secured decrees from a Nevada court, divorcing them from their respective spouses in North Carolina, the State in which they had been married and domiciled. They then married each other in Nevada, returned to North Carolina and cohabited there as man and wife. Prosecuted under a North Carolina statute for bigamous cohabitation, they set up in defense the Nevada decrees. A general verdict was returned, after instructions permitting that the decrees be disregarded upon either of two grounds, (1) that

Page 317 U. S. 288

a Nevada divorce decree based on substituted service, where the defendant made no appearance, could not be recognized in North Carolina, and (2) that the defendants went to Nevada, not to establish bona fide residence, but solely for the purpose of taking advantage of the laws of that State to obtain a divorce through a fraud upon the Nevada court.

Held: that, as it could not be determined on the record that the verdict was not based solely upon the first ground -- involving a construction and application of the Federal Constitution -- the review in this Court must be of that ground, leaving the other out of consideration. Pp. 317 U. S. 289, 317 U. S. 292.

3. It seems clear that § 9460, Nevada Comp.L. 1929, in requiring that the plaintiff in a suit for divorce shall have "resided" in the State for a designated period, means a domicil, as distinguished from a mere residence. P. 317 U. S. 298.

4. Decrees of divorce are more than in personam judgments, involving, as they do, the marital status of the parties. P. 317 U. S. 298.

5. Each State, by virtue of its command over its domiciliaries and its large interest in the institution of marriage, can alter within its own borders the marriage status of the spouse domiciled there, even though the other spouse be absent. There is no constitutional barrier if the form and nature of the substituted service meet the requirements of due process. P. 317 U. S. 298.

6. Under the Full Faith and Credit Clause and the Act of May 26, 1790, where a decree of divorce, granted by a State to one who is at the time bona fide domiciled therein is rendered in a proceeding complying with due process, such decree, if valid under the laws of that State, is binding upon the courts of other States, including the State in which the marriage was performed and where the other party to the marriage was still domiciled when the divorce was decreed. Haddock v. Haddock, 201 U. S. 562, overruled. P. 317 U. S. 299.

7. In this case, the Court must assume that petitioners each had a bona fide domicil in Nevada, not that their Nevada domicil was a sham. P. 317 U. S. 302.

8. The case does not present the question whether North Carolina has power to refuse full faith and credit to the Nevada divorce decrees because they were based on residence, rather than domicil, or because, contrary to the findings of the Nevada court, North Carolina finds that no bona fide domicil was acquired in Nevada. P. 317 U. S. 302.

220 N.C. 445, 17 S.E.2d 769, reversed.

Certiorari, 315 U.S. 795, to review judgments affirming sentences for bigamous cohabitation.

Page 317 U. S. 289

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