General Order No. 58, of April 23, 1900, amended the Philippine
Code of Criminal Procedure, and gave the person charged with crime
a specified time within which to plead, but even if the trial court
misconstrued the provisions of the Order in that respect, such
error would not deprive the proceedings of lawful effect and
enlarge the accused.
Mere error of law, even though serious, committed by the trial
court in a criminal case in the exercise of jurisdiction over a
case properly subject to its cognizance, cannot be reviewed by
The writ of habeas corpus cannot be employed as a substitute for
a writ of error.
23 P.I. 526 reversed.
The facts, which involve the validity of a conviction and
sentence in the Philippine Islands and the extent to which the
conviction can be reviewed on habeas corpus, are stated in the
Page 238 U. S. 101
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Philippine Supreme Court, by final decree in a habeas corpus
proceeding, discharged charged appellee from custody
Page 238 U. S. 102
and the Director of Prisons has appealed. The controversy fairly
involves the application of § 5, Organic Act of the Islands (Act of
Congress, July 1, 1902, c. 1369, 32 Stat. 691, 692, 695), and under
§ 10 of that statute, we have jurisdiction of the appeal.
Fisher v. Baker, 203 U. S. 174
Paraiso v. United States, 207 U.
Appellee, Schields, presented a petition to the Supreme Court
January 4, 1911, wherein, after setting out his alleged wrongful
imprisonment under a judgment entered in the Court of First
Instance, City of Manila, he further alleged and prayed:
"That said imprisonment and deprivation of his liberty are
illegal, because said court of first instance denied him the due
process of law guaranteed by the Philippine Bill of Rights. The
said illegalities are as follows: That on December 21, 1910, the
petitioner appealed from a judgment of the lower court sentencing
him for the crime of theft. That on December 23, the petitioner,
without having been asked to answer the complaint, was notified
that the case would be heard at 10 A.M. on the 24th. When the case
was called at 10 A.M. on December 24th, and while the petitioner
was arraigned, he asked for time in which to answer the complaint,
which request was denied by the court, who ordered the clerk to
enter on the record that the petitioner pleaded 'Not guilty' to the
complaint. Thereupon the petitioner's attorney also asked for time
in which to prepare a defense, which petition was also denied by
the same court, to which ruling the petitioner's attorney excepted
and asked that the exceptions, together with the requests of the
petitioner which had been denied, be entered on the record.
Wherefore, the petitioner prays the Honorable Supreme Court to
issue a writ of habeas corpus in his favor, reversing the judgment
pronounced by the lower court as being contrary to law, and that
the petitioner be set at liberty."
Responding to a rule to show cause why the writ should
Page 238 U. S. 103
not issue, appellant answered that, by virtue of an order of the
Court of First Instance, petitioner was in his custody in Bilibid
prison to serve a sentence of four months and one day of
imposed upon conviction of theft. Copies of
the commitment and judgment were made parts of the return. In
course of that judgment, the judge said:
"At the beginning of the trial, the defendant asked for further
time to prepare, and invoked certain sections of G.O. 58, which, in
our judgment, were not applicable to this case. The prosecution did
not file a new complaint in this court. Defendant was tried on the
identical complaint which was presented in the court below as long
ago as December first. To that complaint, as the record shows, he
pleaded not guilty, and having further brought this case here on
appeal, the presumption is that such plea continued, and to allow
delays for the reiteration of such a plea would be an empty
formality. The law does not require a vain and useless thing, and
the provision in question must be construed as applying to cases
where a new complaint is filed in this court. But, aside from this,
we think that the time of trial caused no prejudice to the accused.
As we have seen, the complaint was filed on December first, and the
accused had more than three weeks to prepare before the trial in
this court. During this period, there were evidently one or more
continuances, and finally, it seems, the defendant had to be called
into the municipal court by a bench warrant. Upon bringing the case
here, it was incumbent upon him to follow it up and to be ready and
waiting its disposition by this court. Notice of the trial was sent
both to him and to his counsel the day before, and it was not
claimed that defendant could have produced any further testimony if
the case had been postponed. On the contrary, it appears that he
called one witness who did not testify in the court below. After
all, the question in the case is mainly one of law. The principal
controversy as to the
Page 238 U. S. 104
facts relates to the question of the alleged permission to take
articles, and this, as we have seen, would not have excused the
defendant, even had it been proved, though he admits that himself
and Frandon are the only witnesses on that point."
General Order No. 58, promulgated from the Office of the United
States Military Governor April 23, 1900, and now in effect, amended
the Code of Criminal Procedure theretofore in force within the
Islands. Kepner v. United States, 195 U.
. It provides:
"Sec.19. If, on the arraignment, the defendant requires it, he
must be allowed a reasonable time, not less than one day, to answer
the complaint or information. He may, in his answer to the
arraignment, demur or plead to the complaint or information. . .
"Sec. 30. After his plea, the defendant shall be entitled, on
demand, to at least two days in which to prepare for trial."
Sec. 528 of the Code of Civil Procedure enacted by the
Philippine Commission August 7, 1901, provides:
"If it appears that the person alleged to be restrained of his
liberty is in custody of an officer under process issued by a court
or magistrate, or by virtue of a judgment or order of a court of
record, and that the court or magistrate had jurisdiction to issue
the process, render the judgment, or make the order, the writ shall
not be allowed; or if the jurisdiction appear after the writ is
allowed, the person shall not be discharged by reason of any
informality or defect in the process, judgment, or order."
The pertinent part of § 5 of the Organic Act, approved July 1,
1902, "The Philippine Bill of Rights," is as follows:
"That no law shall be enacted in said Islands which shall
deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due
process of law, or deny to any person therein the equal protection
of the laws. That, in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall
enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel, to demand the
nature and cause of
Page 238 U. S. 105
the accusation against him, to have a speedy and public trial,
to meet the witnesses face to face, and to have compulsory process
to compel the attendance of witnesses in his behalf. . . ."
Kepner v. United States, supra, 195 U. S.
The Supreme Court, having heard the cause upon petition and
reply, held, one judge dissenting, that the writ of habeas corpus
should be allowed, and discharged the prisoner. Among other things,
"The denial to the accused of the time at least two days, to
prepare for trial, expressly given to him by mandatory statute,
there being absolutely no discretion lodged in the court concerning
the matter, is in effect the deprivation of the constitutional
right of due process of law, to a trial before condemnation, said
statute being for the purpose of making practically effective in
benefit of the accused said constitutional provision. . . . The
denial to the accused of a constitutional right does one of two
things -- it either ousts the court of jurisdiction to enter a
judgment of conviction or it deprives the record of all legal
virtue, and a judgment of conviction entered thereon is a nullity,
it having nothing to support it. . . . He applied for a writ of
habeas corpus upon the ground that the judgment was void as a
matter of law, as he had been convicted without due process of law.
. . . The refusal of the time in which to prepare for trial, and
the consequent forcing of the defendant to his defense on the
instant, is, under the provisions of our law, equivalent, in our
judgment, to a refusal of a legal hearing. It amounts in effect to
a denial of a trial. It is an abrogation of that due process of law
which is the country's embodied procedure, without which a
defendant has, in law, no trial at law. . . . Nobody has denied the
initial jurisdiction of the trial court. It has never been
discussed or even questioned in this court. That jurisdiction has
always been freely conceded. The decision of this court rested upon
Page 238 U. S. 106
occurred after the jurisdiction referred to had attached and
after the trial had begun. It rested upon the proposition that,
while the trial court had jurisdiction in the first place, it
either lost that jurisdiction during the progress of the trial, or
so transcended its powers as to render its judgment void."
We are unable to agree with the conclusion of the Supreme Court
that the judgment pronounced by the Court of First Instance was
void and without effect. Under the circumstances disclosed, denial
of the request for time to answer and to prepare defense was, at
most, matter of error which did not vitiate the entire proceedings.
The cause -- admitted to be within the jurisdiction of the court --
stood for trial on appeal. The accused had known for weeks the
nature of the charge against him. He had notice of the hearing, was
present in person and represented by counsel, testified in his own
behalf, introduced other evidence, and seems to have received an
impartial hearing. There is nothing to show that he needed further
time for any proper purpose, and there is no allegation that he
desired to offer additional evidence or suffered substantial injury
by being forced into trial. But for the sections in respect of
procedure quoted from General Order No. 58, it could not plausibly
be contended that the conviction was without due process of law.
The Court of First Instance placed no purely fanciful or arbitrary
construction upon these sections, and certainly they are not so
peculiarly inviolable that a mere misunderstanding of their meaning
or harmless departure from their exact terms would suffice to
deprive the proceedings of lawful effect and enlarge the accused.
Ex Parte Harding, 120 U. S. 782
120 U. S. 784
In re Wilson, 140 U. S. 575
140 U. S. 585
Felts v. Murphy, 201 U. S. 123
201 U. S. 129
In re Moran, 203 U. S. 96
203 U. S.
-105; Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.
"Mere errors in point of law, however serious, committed by a
criminal court in the exercise of its jurisdiction
Page 238 U. S. 107
over a case properly subject to its cognizance, cannot be
reviewed by habeas corpus. That writ cannot be employed as a
substitute for the writ of error."
Ex Parte Parks, 93 U. S. 18
93 U. S. 21
Ex Parte Siebold, 100 U. S. 371
100 U. S. 375
Ex Parte Royall, 117 U. S. 241
117 U. S. 250
In re Frederich, 149 U. S. 70
149 U. S. 75
Baker v. Grice, 169 U. S. 284
169 U. S. 290
Tinsley v. Anderson, 171 U. S. 101
171 U. S. 105
Markuson v. Boucher, 175 U. S. 184
Henry v. Henkel, 235 U. S. 219
235 U. S. 229
Frank v. Mangum, supra.
The decree of the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands,
granting the writ of habeas corpus and discharging the prisoner,
must be reversed and the cause remanded to that court for further
proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.