Hopt v. Utah - 110 U.S. 574 (1884)
U.S. Supreme Court
Hopt v. Utah, 110 U.S. 574 (1884)
Hopt v. Utah
Submitted January 4, 1884
Decided March 3, 1884
110 U.S. 574
1. The trial, in Utah, by triers, appointed by the court, of challenges of proposed jurors in felony cases, must be had in the presence as well of the court as of the accused, and such presence of the accused cannot be dispensed with.
2. The rule that hearsay evidence is incompetent to establish any specific fact which in its nature is susceptible of being proved by witnesses who speak from their own knowledge, reaffirmed.
3. Where, under the statute, it is for the jury to say whether the facts make a case of murder in the first degree or murder in the second degree, it is error for the court to say, in its charge, that the offense, by whomsoever committed, was that of murder in the first degree.
4. A confession freely and voluntarily made is evidence of the most satisfactory character. But the presumption upon which weight is given; to such evidence -- namely that an innocent man will not imperil his safety or prejudice his interests by an untrue statement, ceases when the confession appears to have been made -- either in consequence of inducements of a temporal nature held out by one in authority, touching the charge preferred, or because of a threat or promise made by, or in the presence of, such person, in reference to such charge.
A confession made to an officer will not be excluded from the jury merely because it appears that the accused was previously in the custody of another officer, and the court will not, as a condition precedent to the admission of such evidence, require the prosecution to call the latter, unless the circumstances render it probable that the accused held a conversation with the first officer upon the subject of a confession, or justify the belief of collusion between the officers.
5. A statute which simply enlarges the class of persons who may be competent to testify, is not ex post facto in its application to offenses previously committed; for it does not attach criminality to any act previously done, and which was innocent when done, nor aggravate past crimes, nor increase the punishment therefor; nor does it alter the degree, or lessen the amount or measure, of the proof made necessary to conviction for past offenses. Such alterations relate to modes of procedure only which the state may regulate at pleasure, and in which no one can be said to have a vested right.
The plaintiff in error and one Emerson were jointly indicted in a court of Utah for the murder in the first degree of John F. Turner. Each defendant demanded a separate trial, and pleaded not guilty. Hopt being found guilty was sentenced to suffer death. The judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the Territory. But, upon writ of error to this Court, that judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded with instructions to order a new trial. Hopt v. People, 104 U. S. 631.
Upon the next trial, the defendant being found guilty was again sentenced to suffer death. That judgment was affirmed by the supreme court of the territory. This writ of error was sued out to review the judgment of the Supreme Court.