Wiggins v. People
93 U.S. 465

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wiggins v. People, 93 U.S. 465 (1876)

Wiggins v. People, 93 U.S. 465 (1876)

93 U.S. 465

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT

OF THE TERRITORY OF UTAH

Syllabus

1. A writ of error from this Court to the Supreme Court of the Territory of Utah is allowed by sec. 3 of the Act of Congress of June 23, 1874, 18 Stat. 254, in criminal cases, where the accused has been sentenced to capital punishment or convicted of bigamy or polygamy.

2. In a trial for homicide where the question whether the prisoner or the deceased commenced the encounter which resulted in death is in any manner of doubt, it is competent to prove threats of violence against the prisoner made by the deceased, though not brought to the knowledge of the prisoner.

MR. JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Sec. 3 of the Act of Congress of June 23, 1874, 18 Stat. 254, allows a writ of error from this Court to the Supreme Court of the Territory of Utah, where the defendant has been convicted of bigamy or polygamy or has been sentenced to death for any crime. The present writ is brought under that statute to obtain a review of a sentence of death against plaintiff in error for the

Page 93 U. S. 466

murder of John Kramer, commonly called Dutch John, in Salt Lake City. The only error insisted upon by counsel, who argued this case orally, was the rejection of testimony offered by the prisoner, as shown by the following extract from the bill of exceptions:

"The defendant, on the trial of this cause, called Robert Heslop as a witness in his defense, who testified:"

"That just a short time before the shooting, the deceased showed him a pistol which he [deceased] then had upon his person. Deceased at this time was sitting on a box on the opposite side of the street from the Salt Lake House, and in front of Reggels' store."

"The prosecuting attorney admitted that this was after the deceased was ejected from defendant's saloon."

"Whereupon the counsel for the defendant asked witness the following questions:"

"What if any threats did the deceased make against the defendant at this time? which was objected to by the prosecuting attorney, for the reason it was immaterial."

"The objection was sustained by the court, and the defendant, by his counsel, then and there duly excepted."

"Defendant's counsel then asked witness what if anything did deceased then say concerning the defendant."

"[Objected to by prosecuting attorney as incompetent.]"

"Defendant's counsel thereupon stated that they expected to prove by this witness that in that conversation, a short time prior to the killing, the deceased, in the hearing of said witness, made the threat that he would kill the defendant before he went to bed on the night of the homicide, which threats we cannot bring home to the knowledge of the defendant."

"Which was objected to by the counsel for the prosecution, because it was incompetent."

"The objection was sustained by the court, to which the defendant then and there excepted."

"This witness, and several others, testified that the deceased's general character was bad, and that he was a dangerous, violent, vindictive, and brutal man."

Although there is some conflict of authority as to the admission of threats of the deceased against the prisoner in a case of homicide, where the threats had not been communicated to him,

Page 93 U. S. 467

there is a modification of the doctrine in more recent times, established by the decisions of courts of high authority, which is very well stated by Wharton, in his work on Criminal Law,

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