Griffin v. United States
336 U.S. 704 (1949)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Griffin v. United States, 336 U.S. 704 (1949)

Griffin v. United States

No. 417

Argued December 15-16, 1948

Decided April 25, 1949

336 U.S. 704

Syllabus

1. Petitioner, claiming self-defense, was convicted in the District of Columbia of murder in the first degree, and was sentenced to death. On a motion for a new trial on the ground of newly discovered evidence, he relied on evidence that at the time of the killing the deceased had an open knife in his pocket. The trial court denied the motion on the ground that, since petitioner did not know that the deceased was carrying a knife, the evidence was inadmissible. An appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeals without opinion.

Held: the cause is remanded to the Court of Appeals with instructions to decide, in the first instance, what rule of evidence should prevail in the District of Columbia. Pp. 336 U. S. 705-718.

2. In the circumstances of this case, it is inappropriate that the ground of the dismissal of the appeal be left to inference. Pp. 336 U. S. 707-708.

3. There is no "federal rule" as to the admissibility of evidence of uncommunicated threats in a murder case in which self-defense is claimed, and, even if there were, it would not follow that that rule must also be the rule for the District of Columbia. Pp. 336 U. S. 712-713.

4. Inasmuch as Congress may enact substantive rules of criminal law exclusively for the District of Columbia, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia should have the opportunity to formulate rules of evidence appropriate for the District, so long as the rules adopted do not offend statutory or constitutional limitations. Pp. 336 U. S. 713-717.

5. The formulation of rules of evidence for the District of Columbia is a matter of local law to be determined, in the absence of specific congressional legislation, by the highest appellate court for the District. Pp. 336 U. S. 716-717.

6. This Court should not undertake to decide questions of local law without the aid of some expression of the views of judges of the local courts who are familiar with the intricacies and trends of local law and practice, and only in exceptional cases will this Court review a determination of such a question by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. P. 336 U. S. 718.

Remanded.

Page 336 U. S. 705

Petitioner's motion for a new trial on the ground of newly discovered evidence was denied by the District Court for the District of Columbia. An appeal was dismissed by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit without opinion. This Court granted certiorari. 335 U.S. 866. Remanded with instructions, p. 336 U. S. 718.

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