Twitchell v. Commonwealth - 74 U.S. 321 (1868)


U.S. Supreme Court

Twitchell v. Commonwealth, 74 U.S. 7 Wall. 321 321 (1868)

Twitchell v. Commonwealth

74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 321

Syllabus

1. Writs of error to state courts are not allowed as of right. The practice is to submit the record of the state courts to a judge of this Court, whose duty it is to ascertain upon examination whether any question cognizable here upon appeal was made and decided in the proper court of the state and whether the case upon the face of the record will justify the allowance of the writ.

2. The present case being one, however, where the petition was made by a prisoner under sentence of death, within a very few days, the motion for allowance was permitted, in view of that circumstance, to be argued, at the earliest motion day before the full bench.

3. The court conceding that neither the 25th section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 nor the Act of February 5, 1867, makes any distinction between civil and criminal cases in respect to the revision of the judgments of state courts by this Court, decided that --

4. The 5th and 6th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States (relating to criminal prosecutions) were not designed as limits upon the state governments in reference to their own citizens, but exclusively as restrictions upon federal power, Baron v. City of Baltimore, 7 Pet. 243, Fox v. Ohio, 5 How. 434, and other cases to the same point with them being herein concurred in.

This was a petition by one Twitchell for a writ of error to the Court of Oyer and Terminer of the City and County of Philadelphia and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania with a view to the revision here of a judgment of the former court, affirmed by the latter court, which condemned the petitioner to suffer death for the crime of murder.

The case was this:

The Constitution of the United States, by its 5th Amendment, ordains that no person shall be held to answer for a capital crime nor be deprived of life "without due process of law," and by its 6th that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right "to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation."

With these provisions of the Constitution in force, the Legislature of Pennsylvania, by a statute of the 30th March, 1860, to consolidate, amend, and revise its laws relative to penal proceedings and pleadings, enacted thus:

"In any indictment for murder or manslaughter, it shall not

Page 74 U. S. 322

be necessary to set forth the manner in which, or the means by which the death of the deceased was caused, but it shall be sufficient in every indictment for murder to charge that the defendant did feloniously, willfully, and of malice aforethought kill and murder the deceased."

Under this statute, Twitchell was indicted in the Court of Oyer and Terminer at Philadelphia in December, 1868, for murder, the indictment presenting, that on a day named, he and his wife, with force, and arms &c., "feloniously, willfully, and of their malice aforethought, did make an assault," and one Mary Hill "feloniously, willfully, and of their malice aforethought, did kill and murder," contrary to the form of the act &c. On this indictment Twitchell was convicted, and the supreme court of the state having affirmed the judgment, he was sentenced to be hanged on the 8th April, 1869.

Eight days previously to the day thus fixed, Mr. W. W. Hubbell, counsel of the prisoner, asked, and obtained leave in this Court to file a motion for a writ of error, as above said, in the case, with notice to the Attorney General of Pennsylvania that the motion would be heard on Friday, April the 2d, the earliest motion day of the Court. The petition was heard before the Court in banc on the 2d accordingly. It set forth that, pending the suit, Twitchell had set up and claimed certain rights and privileges under the said 5th and 6th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States and that the final decision was against the rights and privileges so set up and claimed. He therefore prayed, in order that the said Twitchell should enjoy his just privileges under the Constitution and that what of justice and right ought to be done should be done, that a writ of error should issue from this Court to the Court of Oyer and Terminer of the City and County of Philadelphia and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania with a view to the reexamination here of the judgment of the former court, affirmed by the latter.

The application was made under the 25th section of the

Page 74 U. S. 323

Judiciary Act of 1789; the section [Footnote 1] which gives such writ, where is drawn in question the validity of a statute of, or authority exercised under any state, on the ground of their being repugnant to the Constitution or laws of the United States, and the decision is in favor of such validity, or where is drawn in question the construction of any clause of the Constitution or statute of the United States and the decision is against the title, right, privilege, or exemption specially set up &c. -- a provision, this last, reenacted by Act of February 5, 1867, [Footnote 2] with additional words, as

"where any title, right, privilege, or immunity is claimed under the Constitution, or any statute of, or authority exercised under the United States and the decision is against the title, right, privilege, or immunity specially set up,"

&c.

Page 74 U. S. 324



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