The law governing the ordinary transactions of life is that of the State where they may have their seat. This was affirmed in the original Judiciary Act,[Footnote: U. S. Revised Statutes, Sec. 721. As "equity follows the law," State legislation creating new equitable rights or varying those formerly established also affects causes in equity in the Federal courts. Brine v. Insurance Co., 96 U. S. Reports, 627; but see James v. Gray, 131 Federal Reporter, 401.] as a general rule for the courts of the United States in trials at common law. By another Act of Congress,[Footnote: Ibid., Sec. 914.] the practice, pleadings, and form and mode of proceeding in civil causes, other than those of equity and admiralty jurisdiction, in the Circuit and District Courts are to conform as nearly as may be to that followed in the State within which these courts may be held.
The State laws which are thus made a rule for the United States courts are the law of the State as it is understood and applied in its own courts. Hence the construction of a State statute, or the doctrines of the common law in a particular State, if definitely settled by the courts of that State, must be followed in subsequent litigation in the federal courts. Where, however, a State court has taken a certain position as to what the law is, and afterwards changes its position, the federal courts are not compelled to change with it, if this would do injustice to one who has meanwhile acted on the faith of the original ruling.[Footnote: Burgess v. Seligman, 107 U. S. Reports, 20, and see argument of Daniel Webster in Groves v. Slaughter, 15 Peters' Reports, 449, 489.]
Nor are the federal courts, in large questions of a commercial nature, bound always to accept the opinion of a State court as to what the common law of the State may be. The manner in which this doctrine has been evolved is an interesting example of the manner in which law develops by litigation, and new points are struck out in a single case as the joint product of lawyer and judge.[Footnote: See Chaps, XVII, XVIII.]
A bill of exchange drawn in Maine on one Tyson, a merchant in New York, and bearing his acceptance, was indorsed over to one Swift, who took it in good faith before it fell due, in payment of a pre-existing debt. He sued Tyson upon it in the Circuit Court of the United States in Maine. If his rights were as good as if he had paid value for it at the time he received it, he was entitled to recover. If not, his action failed; for the acceptance had been obtained by fraud. It was made in New York. The judicial decisions of that State, contrary to the prevailing opinion as to what was the general common law rule, seemed to favor the view that a pre-existing debt did not stand on as good a footing as a present payment, in support of a claim upon negotiable paper. Samuel Fessenden of Portland, a lawyer of great ability, was his counsel. The cause was submitted on briefs, without oral argument. Mr. Fessenden, admitting that the law of the place where acceptance was made must govern the obligations of Tyson, insisted that the New York decisions were wrong in principle and ought not to be regarded.
"If," said his brief, "there is any question of law, not local, but widely general in its nature and effects, it is the present question. It is one in which foreigners, the citizens of different States in their contests with each other, nay, every nation of the civilized commercial world, are deeply interested. By all without the United States this Court is looked to as the judiciary of the whole nation, known as the United States, whose commerce and transactions are as widely diffused as is the use of bills of exchange.... How can this Court preserve its control over the reason and affections of the people of the United States; that control in which its usefulness consists, and which its own untrammeled learning and judgment would enable it naturally to maintain; if its records show that it has decided-as it may be compelled to decide if the construction referred to, advocated on the part of the defendant, is established-the same identical question, arising on a bill of exchange, first one way, and then the other, with vacillating inconsistency?"
Mr. Dana, for Tyson, maintained the opposite view with equal ability. "In coming together," he said, "from the respective States, the framers of the Constitution, and our representatives in Congress after them, must be regarded as having had in view the language, laws, and institutions of the States which they represented."
Mr. Justice Story gave the opinion of the court. Referring to the provision in the Judiciary Act (now U. S. Revised Statutes, Sec. 721) above mentioned, on the construction of which the case must turn, "It never," he remarked, "has been supposed by us that the section did apply, or was designed to apply, to questions of a more general nature, not at all dependent upon local statutes or local usages of a fixed and permanent operation, as, for example, to the construction of ordinary contracts or other written instruments, and especially to questions of general commercial law, where the State tribunals are called upon to perform the like functions as ourselves, that is, to ascertain upon general reasoning and legal analogies, what is the true exposition of the contract or instrument, or what is the just rule furnished by the principles of commercial law to govern the case.... The law respecting negotiable instruments may be truly declared in the language of Cicero, adopted by Lord Mansfield in Luke v. Lyde, 2 Burr. B., 883, 887, to be in a great measure, not the law of a single country only, but of the commercial world. Non erit alia lex Romae, alia Athenis, alia nunc, alia posthac, sed et apud omnes gentes, et omni tempore, una eademque lex obtinebit."[Footnote: Swift v. Tyson, 16 Peters' Reports, 1, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 18.]
This opinion had been submitted to the court for the first time during the evening before it was delivered.[Footnote: Ibid., 23.] It could not have received any very close scrutiny. It relied on no authority except that of Cicero, for Lord Mansfield, in the case of Luke v. Lyde, was speaking of the law of the sea, which in the nature of things no one nation can prescribe or change. It was not easy to reconcile it with precedents cited by Mr. Dana, in one of which Mr. Justice Chase of the same court had held on the circuit as early as 1798 that the United States had no common law of their own, and that the "common law, therefore, of one State is not the common law of another; but the common law of England is the law of each State, so far as each State has adopted it; and it results from that position, connected with the judicial act, that the common law will always apply to suits between citizen and citizen, whether they are instituted in a Federal, or State, Court."[Footnote: United States v. Worrall, 2 Dallas' Reports, 384, 394.] So the Supreme Court itself had said, in 1834, in a famous judgment, concurred in by Mr. Justice Story himself, that "it is clear, there can be no common law of the United States. The federal government is composed of twenty-four sovereign and independent States; each of which may have its local usages, customs and common law. There is no principle which pervades the union and has the authority of law that is not embodied in the constitution or laws of the union. The common law could be made a part of our federal system only by legislative adoption. When, therefore, a common law right is asserted, we must look to the State in which the controversy originated."[Footnote: Wheaton v. Peters, 8 Peters' Reports, 658.]
The State courts have looked upon the doctrine announced in Swift v. Tyson with an unfriendly eye. In some, its authority is denied.[Footnote: See Porepaugh v. Delaware, Lackawanna and Western R. R. Co., 128 Pennsylvania State Reports, 217; 18 Atlantic Reporter, 503.] In none will it affect the disposition of a cause turning upon its own law, and not pending in the federal courts. It has, however, been repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States, though the later decisions appear to limit its effect to questions growing out of commercial transactions not wholly confined to a single State.[Footnote: Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Call Publishing Co., 181 United States Reports, 92. See Article on the Common Law of the Federal Courts, by Edward C. Eliot, American Law Review, XXXVI, 498.]
The right of recovery on a cause of action of a commercial nature will therefore often depend on the court which the plaintiff selects. If he sues in a State court, the common law of the State, as the judicial authorities of that State declare it to be, will be applied; if he sues in a court of the United States, the common law of the State as the judicial authorities of the United States declare it to be. Each tribunal will profess to decide by the same rule—the law of the State; but the federal court will really apply the common law of England, as it is generally understood to be, instead of the common law of that State as it is locally understood to be.
The relations between the federal and State courts which have been described obviously present many occasions for conflicts of authority. That such conflicts are so infrequent is mainly due to a spirit of comity, which the judges of each sovereignty should and generally do show to those of the other. The federal courts are also prohibited by Act of Congress from issuing any injunction to stay proceedings in a State court, except in certain cases arising under the bankruptcy laws. Independent of any statute, however, the general principles of jurisprudence forbid any direct attempt either by a court of the State to control the action of a court of the United States or by a court of the United States to control the action of a State court, except to the limited extent for which provision is made in the national Constitution.[Footnote: Diggs v. Wolcott, 4 Cranch's Reports, 179; M'Kim v. Voorhies, 7 Cranch's Reports, 279.] Each court, this exception aside, exercises powers belonging to an independent sovereign, and therefore subject to control by that sovereign only.
The equitable jurisdiction of the courts of the United States enables them to interfere in disputes arising out of State elections in certain cases in which the claim is set up that rights held under the Constitution or laws of the United States have been violated. Actions for such relief are rare, and instances have occurred in which the remedy has been abused for political purposes.[Footnote: See the proceedings in the case of Kellogg v. Warmoth in the United States Circuit Court in Louisiana in 1872. McPherson's "History of Reconstruction," 100-108.]
The centralizing and nationalizing tendencies which set in early in the nineteenth century and were so greatly strengthened by the course of events during and following soon after the Civil War have greatly weakened the position and influence of the State courts. They have thus rendered the State bench less attractive. In 1791, John Rutledge, an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, resigned that office for the Chief Justiceship of South Carolina. During the last half century, several Chief Justices of States have resigned to become Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. Associate Justices of Supreme Courts in the smaller States have also frequently resigned to accept the position of District Judge, attracted by the life tenure, larger salary, and retiring pension.
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RELATIONS BETWEEN THE COURTS OF DIFFERENT STATES
Every State has all the rights of an independent sovereign, except so far as its sovereignty is limited by the Constitution of the United States. As respects each other the States are for most purposes in the position of foreign governments. The courts of one are regarded by those of any other as foreign courts, except so far as the Constitution may have prescribed a different rule.
No legal process from a court can have any inherent force outside of the territorial boundaries of the government in which it is issued. The law of that government may attach certain consequences to the fact of its service in a foreign country, but it can do so only with reference to the effect of the proceeding on persons or property subject to its own jurisdiction. Courts, as a general rule, can act only when they have jurisdiction over the person, the subject-matter, and the cause.
In rare cases, jurisdiction over the subject-matter may be regarded as giving jurisdiction over the person, so far as may be necessary to uphold a judgment settling the possession or title to property. Such a proceeding is, either in form or substance, one not in personam but in rem. The commonest instance is a suit in admiralty to enforce a maritime lien, such as that given by the universal law of the sea for seamen's wages. Wherever the vessel is found, this lien is recognized and will be enforced by seizing and selling her, but only after some kind of public notice has been given to all who have any pecuniary interest in her to appear and be heard. In such a suit, personal notice to her owners, served within the jurisdiction of the government to the courts of which the seamen may resort, is not indispensable. The presence of the ship within the power of the court is enough.
While State courts have no admiralty jurisdiction, they can adjudicate upon a claim of title or right of possession to fixed property within the territorial limits of their State, although the parties adversely interested are not and have not been personally served with process there or anywhere. Here again their power over the property necessarily implies such power of control over those who might lay claim to it as will suffice to settle any dispute over its ownership or possession. But in all ordinary cases they are not only powerless to subject any one to obedience to their judgments who is not personally within the State in which they exist, but powerless so to subject one who is personally within it, but who did not belong there and was not there served with process in the original proceeding leading up to the judgment, unless he voluntarily took part in the proceeding.
In most civilized nations there is a recognized form of proceeding by which a judgment of a foreign court, fairly rendered after giving a proper opportunity to the defendant for a hearing, can be enforced by process from a domestic tribunal. This is styled making the foreign judgment executory. The English common law did not recognize such a right, and gave no remedy to one desiring to enforce a foreign judgment, except that of bringing a fresh suit. In like manner, whoever has recovered a judgment against an inhabitant of any State, in a court held outside of that State, can enforce it against him in his own State only by bringing a new action. This either is, or is in the nature of, the common law action of "debt on judgment"; and only two defenses are available. These are, first, that no such judgment exists or is in force; and, second, that if it exists, it was rendered by a court having no jurisdiction over the subject-matter or the defendant.[Footnote: Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U. S. Reports, 714; Grover & Baker Sewing Machine Co. v. Radcliffe, 137 U. S. Reports, 287.] If there was jurisdiction, it is of no consequence that it was erroneously or unfairly exercised. The remedy for that must be sought in the State where the judgment was pronounced. Even fraud on the part of the plaintiff in procuring it, though a defense against a judgment of a foreign country is not one against a judgment of another State.[Footnote: Christmas v. Russell, 5 Wallace's Reports, 290.] These rules are established by Art. IV, Sec. I of the Constitution of the United States and by Acts of Congress passed to enforce it.[Footnote: U. S. Revised Statutes, Sec. 905.]
Commercial intercourse between the different States is so great and so constant that questions in the courts of one often arise which turn on the law of another. Those who do any act do it with implied reference to the law of the place where it is done, so far as respects its legal consequences. If it is a wrongful act there, it will in most instances be deemed a wrongful act everywhere. If it leads to a certain result as regards property rights there, it will ordinarily give a right of action anywhere, to secure the benefit of that result.
The law of each State is largely an unwritten common law. Even in those where they have full codes defining civil rights, these codes are expressed in terms for the definitions of many of which the common law gives the rule. But this common law is not precisely the same in any two States. In minor points certainly, and perhaps in capital ones, there will be a divergence. In England there is one uniform common law. Here, divided as we are for most business purposes into forty-five different sovereignties, it is multiform.
If, then, the court of one State in determining the legal effect of a transaction having its seat in another must be governed by the common law of that State, where is it to be found? If there have been decisions of its highest courts in regard to what it is with reference to the point in question, they will ordinarily be accepted as conclusive.
This is not by virtue of the provision in the Constitution of the United States that full faith and credit is to be given in each State to the public records and proceedings of the others. That refers to the effect of public records and proceedings upon the rights of those who are or claim under parties to them. Such decisions as those which have been described are accepted as conclusive as to the rights of those who were not parties to them, and simply because they are considered the best evidence attainable of a rule of unwritten law of general application. But they are not universally so considered. The rule that transactions are governed by the law of the place where they have their seat is one founded on the presumed intent of the parties to them. But in fact the parties to a business transaction act on their general notions of what the law is or must be, rather than on any particular knowledge of what courts have declared that it is. The rule that one country will accept the opinion of the judicial authorities of another as to what its law is, is one not to be pressed so far as to sacrifice essential justice. In this point of view, some courts hold that it is permissible to disregard decisions of other States which are based on a departure from what is generally considered a settled doctrine of the common law as to a commercial question. This is substantially the same position taken by the Supreme Court of the United States, and elsewhere described,[Footnote: See Chap. X.] concerning the right of a federal court to refuse to be bound by State decisions as to the unwritten law affecting foreign trade or trade between the States.[Footnote: Faulkner v. Hart, 82 N. Y. Reports, 413, 423.]
Another rule of practice of great importance is that in the absence of proof to the contrary the courts will presume, in a State basing its jurisprudence on the English common law, that the unwritten law of any other American State is the same as its own. As the reason of this rule fails in the case of Louisiana, Florida and Texas, which were subject to organized governments not derived from Great Britain at the time when they were incorporated into the United States, it is not applied to them.[Footnote: Norris v. Harris, 15 California Reports, 253.]
Decisions of a court constitute a precedent of binding obligation only within the particular territorial jurisdiction which is subject to its process. In the tribunals of one State decisions rendered in another on legal points are, so far as respects transactions not governed by its local law, without any authoritative force. They may be read, just as the opinions of an author expressed in a legal treatise, or as the decisions of an English or German court might be, for what they appear to be worth. No formal proof that they were really the deliverances of the court from which they purport to emanate is necessary to support their use for this purpose.
The reported decisions of courts of other States, whether published officially or unofficially, may be cited in argument in any cause, to fortify the claims of counsel as to the proper rules to be followed in reaching a decision. For this use they are introduced simply for the intrinsic value of the reasoning and conclusions.
If it is claimed that they prove the law of the State from which they come to be of a certain nature (and that is a material point in the case), they should be made the subject of proof before argument.[Footnote: Hanley v. Donoghue, 116 U. S. Reports, 1.] In many States this is dispensed with by statutes allowing courts to take judicial notice of all reported decisions in other States; that is, in effect, to take any means which they think proper to learn what they are. It is also the general practice of the bar where no such statutes exist to allow the reports of other States to be read for any purpose without objection.
Most States have statutes to facilitate the proof in court of the statute laws of other States. The mode prescribed by Act of Congress (Revised Statutes, Sec. 905) under the constitutional provision, to which reference has been made, involves considerable expense for the proper certification of copies. Common provisions of State legislation are that all courts may take judicial notice of the laws of other States (that is, take them into account without any formal proof at all), or that a copy of the official publications containing them shall be competent evidence of what they are.
There is a certain spirit of comity to which courts often give expression in rendering assistance to courts of other countries. This judicial comity has been defined as "the deference commonly paid by the courts of one jurisdiction to the laws or proceedings of another, in causes affecting rights claimed under such laws or proceedings."[Footnote: "Dict. of Philosophy and Psychology," Comity.] As between courts of the different States in the United States this sentiment naturally is particularly strong. In pursuance of it, it is usual, if there has been a judicial appointment in one State of a representative of the law to administer an estate of any kind, part of which is in another State, for the courts of the latter to give him such further powers or appointment as may be necessary to put in his possession or control whatever is within their jurisdiction. An administrator of the estate of a deceased person would thus be appointed, almost as a matter of course, administrator of such estate in whatever State property or rights of action belonging to it might be found. A receiver appointed by a court of equity to take possession of property would ordinarily, in like manner, be appointed to the same office wherever any part of such property might be situated; and in some States such an officer has been permitted to sue for it under his original appointment. The general doctrine, however, is that a receiver in chancery (that is, a receiver appointed by a court of equity) is simply an arm of the court which appoints him, and has no authority to act outside of the territorial jurisdiction of that court.[Footnote: Hale v. Allinson, 188 U. S. Reports, 56.]
A receiver of an insolvent corporation often finds that it has shareholders living in several different States, who have not fully paid in their subscriptions to its capital stock. In such case, if the statute of the State under the laws of which it was incorporated provided for the appointment of a receiver for insolvent corporations of that character, he may be regarded in other States as one to whom each shareholder, in legal effect, promised to pay such part of his subscription as had not been previously paid to the corporation itself. On this theory of liability, a foreign receiver has a right of action by virtue of his official position, indeed, but not because of authority from a foreign court to use that position for such a purpose. He sues as one to whom the shareholder promised to make a payment, and on a direct contract between the two, which is implied by law.[Footnote: Fish v. Smith, 73 Conn. Reports, 377; 47 Atlantic Reporter, 711; 84 American State Reports, 161.]
The sentiment or rule (for from being a sentiment it has risen to be a rule) of comity between States both aids in the enforcement in one of rights acquired under the other,[Footnote: Finney v. Guy, 189 U. S. Reports, 335, 346.] and in the prevention by one of acts which would infringe on prohibitions created by the other. Thus, if a corporation of one State has been organized to do business in another, it may be enjoined in its home State from amalgamating with a corporation of the other, contrary to the public policy of the other as declared by its courts.[Footnote: Coler v. Tacoma Railway and Power Co., 70 New Jersey Law Reports; 54 Atlantic Reporter, 413.]
As no legal process can be effective outside the limits of the sovereignty by authority of which it is issued, no court of a State can summon before it witnesses not found within its jurisdiction, who live in another State. This, in view of the free intercourse and trade between all parts of the United States, would work intolerable hardship had not statutes been passed by every State permitting testimony to be taken outside of its limits by written deposition for use in civil cases.
So far as criminal causes are concerned, this mode of relief generally cannot be pursued, owing to the common provision in our State Constitutions that the accused must be confronted by the witnesses against him. Most of the Northeastern States, to meet this difficulty, have passed statutes requiring their citizens when summoned by a local magistrate at the request of a court of another State to appear and testify before it in such a prosecution, to do so upon receiving payment for their time and expenses, on pain of a considerable pecuniary forfeiture.[Footnote: New Hampshire inaugurated this legislation more than sixty years ago. Public Stat., ed. 1842, 382. Most of the statutes apply only to adjoining or neighboring States, and some require reciprocity on their part.]
* * * * *
Lawyers of one State have no right to practice in any other. By courtesy and on motion of a member of the bar, it is customary for the courts of other States to allow them to participate in the conduct of any particular cause. In some States, lawyers who have removed their residence into them from another may in the same manner be admitted to their bar; in most there is a standing rule on the subject which requires proof of their having practiced in the courts of their original State for a certain number of years, and otherwise provides for an examination into their legal attainments.
* * * * *
TRIAL BY JURY
To have a trial by jury is, as a general rule, the right of every man who sues or is sued in court on a cause of action not of a kind to be disposed of in a court of equity or admiralty. The American colonies did not all adopt this mode of procedure at first, and few of them ever practiced it precisely on the English plan. In the colony of New Haven there were no juries. In all the New England colonies, later, there were juries, but verdicts in civil causes had not the conclusive force given them by the common law. The defeated party had what was styled the privilege of a review. This was a new trial before another jury, either in the same court or a higher one. If he lost his case again, it was the end of the litigation. If he gained it on the second trial, the other party could demand a third, and the event of that decided the cause forever.[Footnote: Bissell v. Dickerson, 64 Conn. Reports, 61, 65; 29 Atlantic Reporter, 226.] In criminal prosecutions a similar right was sometimes conceded to the defendant in case of conviction.[Footnote: Statutes of Connecticut, ed. 1715, p. 131.] South of New England there was no such radical departure from the common law, but there were before the Revolution variations of considerable importance.[Footnote: The Federalist, No. LXXXIII.]
Instead of sending a case before an ordinary jury, the court has power, at the request of the parties, to direct a special jury to be summoned to hear it. This is seldom asked or granted unless the matter in controversy is of peculiar importance and difficulty. Such a jury is more carefully selected, with the assistance of the parties, so as to make it sure that it will be composed of men exceptionally competent to decide a cause and such a cause. They are generally paid a larger compensation than ordinary jurors receive, the parties furnishing the additional sum required. Prepayment of these sums may be and often is made a condition of granting a trial before such a jury.[Footnote: Eckrich v. St. Louis Transit Co., 176 Missouri Reports, 621; 75 Southwestern Reporter, 755; 62 Lawyers' Reports Annotated, 911.]
The requirement of unanimity on the part of the jury in civil causes, which we have inherited from England, is indefensible in principle. In practice, it has saved the institution from destruction. No one would feel himself safe if a majority of twelve men, of no special training in the study of legal rights, could strip him of his property. But among that number of persons there can hardly fail to be one or two of superior character and intelligence. These, with the aid of the judge, if he be one who fulfills properly his part of the proceeding, can generally lead the rest to a just conclusion. If the verdict is for the plaintiff, they may have to yield to some compromise as to the amount of damages. Not infrequently this has been arrived at by calling for the separate estimates of each juror, adding them together and dividing them by twelve. It is a rough way, and not the fairest, but the wiser heads may consent to it to secure the concurrence of the weaker.
In criminal cases, the importance of a verdict to the defendant is so great that unanimity may well be required. While there is a legal presumption that he is innocent until found guilty, this in practice is of little avail to him with the jury. They know from their every-day observation of affairs that there are few prosecutions which reach the final stage of a trial on the merits, under which there ought not to be a conviction.
In several States verdicts in civil causes by a three-fourths vote are permitted. This radical change is not likely to become general.
Its best defense is that temptations to corruption are thus removed. So long as one juror, by refusing to concur with the rest, whether with or without reason, can prevent a verdict, there will be defendants seeking to prevent the recovery of what they know to be a just demand, who will be ready to buy a vote. In 1899, seven of the bailiffs in attendance on the Chicago courts were accused of lending themselves to such negotiations, and twenty men who had been jurors confessed that they had either taken or been offered bribes.[Footnote: Report of the New York State Bar Association for 1904, 51.]
The Anglo-American jury is unique because it is nothing unless unanimous, and because it may render a general verdict, stating no reasons for the decision, on which a general judgment, save in exceptional cases, is entered as of course.
In the early judicial history of the American colonies juries were less under the control of the judge than they are now.[Footnote: See Chap. XIV.] In some colonies they received no instructions as to the law, the chance of an unjust decision being guarded against in civil cases, as previously stated, by an absolute right in the losing party to claim a new trial before another jury.
The general tendency of judicial practice in later years has been to emphasize the influence of the judge upon verdicts. This often extends to directing a verdict, peremptorily, for one party or the other, when the law is clear upon the facts claimed or admitted. Still more often it takes the shape of a caution as to the weight that can properly be given to certain testimony, or an opinion as to what really are the controlling sources of evidence. Without the guidance of an intelligent judge, a jury would frequently come to unfortunate and even unjust conclusions. That there should be such guidance is an essential part of the jury system, and it is generally given most effectually where the judges are the ablest and the most independent.
The judge has at common law and by practice in most American States a right in his charge to comment on the evidence and intimate his opinion as to the weight which should or should not be given to any particular testimony. It is a right to be cautiously exercised, for juries are greatly influenced in their conclusions by remarks of that character. They feel that he is the head of the court, and there is a certain sentiment of loyalty to him as well as of respect for any one occupying the position in which they find him placed by the authority of the State. Sometimes this power is abused. The judge desires to indicate a decided opinion. He fears that if he put it in plain words it might seem so strong as to indicate partiality, and furnish ground of appeal. He therefore uses language, perhaps in reference to the credibility of a witness, which looks fair and even colorless on paper, but by the tone or emphasis in which some vital word is uttered, or with the aid of a shrug or glance, carries to those whom he is addressing an unmistakable conviction that he means it to be taken in a certain sense. Any such judicial action, however, is rare, and would be looked upon with disapprobation by the bar.[Footnote: See Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Howle, 68 Ohio State Reports, 614; 68 Northeastern Reporter, 4.]
If the case is one which has been pressed by counsel especially upon the sympathies of the jury, such as a suit arising out of a labor strike, or by a widow to recover for an injury resulting in her husband's death, it is customary for the court to caution them in their charge that justice and not sympathy is their rule of duty.[Footnote: Bachert v. Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co., 208 Pennsylvania State Reports 362; 57 Atlantic Reporter, 765.]
The American colonies were settled at a time when the English criminal code was extremely harsh, and the English judges were disposed to administer it in such a way as to favor the crown. If the government promoted a prosecution, there was little hope for the defendant, except from the jury. The courts held that on criminal proceedings for publishing a libel it was for them to say whether the paper was libellous, and for the jury to decide only as to its publication by the accused. This was the occasion of the Charles James Fox Libel Act of 1792, and of many constitutional provisions to the same effect in this country, under which juries, even in libel cases, can render a general verdict of Not Guilty.
It was under the influence of these ideas, and in view of the fact that the colonial judge often knew no more law than the jury, that it became common in this country either to give a jury in a criminal cause no instruction as to the law at all or to charge them that they were judges both of the law and fact.[Footnote: 2 Swift's "System of the Laws of Connecticut," 258, 401.] In some of the States, a charge to the effect last stated is now sometimes required by statute.
A jury trial is a poor mode of doing justice, if there is a rule of law which, as applied to certain facts, should control the verdict, unless that rule of law be both stated by the judge, and so stated as to impress upon the jury that it is their sworn duty to apply it, if the facts which they may find to exist are such as to come under its operation. That they should be so instructed, even if declared by express statute to be the judges both of the law and the facts, is the prevailing opinion of American courts and jurists.[Footnote: Commonwealth v. Anthes, 5 Gray's Reports, 185; Sparf v. United States, 156 U. S. Reports, 51, 71.]
It is of especial importance that the duty of juries to take the law from the court should be clearly stated to them in a country of written Constitutions. Most crimes are defined by statute. It is easy for the defendant's counsel to claim that the statute on which the prosecution is based is unconstitutional. If it be, the accused is entitled to an acquittal; but if the jury acquit him on that ground, and the ground is false, injustice is done. Any such claim must be disposed of by the court, in order to give the Constitution its due supremacy.[Footnote: State v. Main, 69 Conn. Reports, 123, 132; 37 Atlantic Reporter, 80; 61 American State Reports, 30.]
Mr. Justice Baldwin of the Supreme Court of the United States came to the bench, in 1829, strongly inclined to minimize the power of the federal judiciary. In one of his first cases on the circuit, he charged the jury in a capital case that they were judges of both law and fact, and if they were prepared to say that the law was different from what he had stated it to be, were not bound by the opinion of the court.[Footnote: United States v. Wilson, 1 Baldwin's Reports, 109.] It was not long before he found himself compelled to retreat from his position. A man was being tried before him for forging notes of the United States Bank, and his counsel claimed an acquittal because the law incorporating the bank was unconstitutional, reading to prove it the veto message of President Jackson, with the accompanying documents. To the Jackson Democrats on the panel this was quite an imposing argument, and Mr. Justice Baldwin was obliged in his charge to sound the warning that for a jury to exercise the power of treating an Act of Congress as invalid was virtually to give us a country without a Constitution and without laws.[Footnote: United States v. Sheve, 1 Baldwin's Reports, 510, 513; Pennsylvania Law Journal for November, 1846, p. 9.]
In one of the Southern States where it is a statutory right to demand instructions that the jury are the judges of the law, it was the custom of a certain trial judge of commanding presence, when called upon to give them, to say to the jury after he had done so, rising to his full height, "But, gentlemen, you must recollect that I have told you what the law that governs this case is, and to this I am the only witness who has appeared or could appear."
It was one of the acute observations of Alexander Hamilton that under our American Constitutions judges are less to be relied on by one who is attacked by the government, because those who direct the government are the choice of the people, and whatever they do is presumably popular. The judiciary, he said, was less independent here than in England, and therefore we had the more reason to cling to the trial by Jury and their power to render general verdicts as our greatest safety.[Footnote: People v. Croswell, 3 Johnson's Cases, 337, 353.]
The States which guard these most closely are those in which there is the most jealousy of anything like a standing order, and the widest scope of popular election. Georgia was the State, among the old thirteen, in which these characteristics were most marked. Her first Constitution of 1777 expressly threw the power of determining the law into the hands of the jury in every case, though they were allowed to ask the judges holding the court for their opinion, in which case each judge gave his in rotation. The party who lost his case could demand a new trial before a special jury. The ordinary jury were to be sworn to bring in a verdict according to law and the evidence, provided it be not repugnant to the Constitution. The special jury were to be sworn to bring one in according to law and the evidence, "provided it be not repugnant to justice, equity, and conscience, and the rules and regulations contained in this Constitution, of which they shall judge." Apparently the meaning of this was that while the decision of the first jury as to the law could be revised by a second, that of the second, however contrary to the highest law, could not be.
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Resort is occasionally had to the assistance of a jury by a court of chancery for the better disposition of some disputed question of fact on which the equities of the parties depend. This cannot (except by force of some express statute) be claimed as a matter of right. The judge sends the issue to a jury for trial only if he thinks it would be helpful to him, but their verdict has no conclusive effect. He can adopt it or ignore it, at his pleasure.
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The selection of jurors is a long process. The general plan is to commit to some local authorities in each city, town, or county the choice of a considerable number out of the inhabitants whom they may think suitable to serve in that capacity; then to have that list revised by some higher officials or persons specially appointed by the courts for the purpose, who must strike out a large part of the names; and finally to have those who are to be summoned to attend any particular term of court for jury duty chosen by drawing from the remaining names by lot. In many States special qualifications as to age, education, and intelligence are required. Out of the jurors thus summoned to attend the court, there is a further choice by lot of those to try each particular case, subject to objections made by either party to any thus drawn, for proper cause.
The statutes of the United States provide that jurors in the Circuit and District Courts shall be selected in each State from those qualified to serve in its highest trial courts, and in substantially the same manner.
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The right to a jury trial is in civil actions often waived by both parties, in which case the facts as well as the law are determined by the judge. If not expressly claimed, it is by the rules of practice in some States treated as waived. The number of civil causes tried to the jury, taking the country as a whole, is declining. The decline is generally found to be quite accurately proportioned to the confidence felt by the bar in the ability and independence of the judge,[Footnote: See Paper by Justice Henry B. Brown, in the American Bar Association Report for 1889, p. 265, on "Judicial Independence."] or perhaps to that confidence in the case of a former generation. Tradition and custom have a large influence on whatever pertains to the practice of law. In several of the States a majority of the civil causes which might be tried to the jury are not: in Louisiana very few are.[Footnote: See Chap. XXIV.] The tendency in England is also toward dispensing with the jury in ordinary civil trials. Over a million cases are brought every year in the English county courts, and in not one in a thousand of them is there a jury trial, although if the matter in demand is over L5 in value either party may claim it.[Footnote: Maitland, "Justice and Police," 28, 29, 54. For small cases the jury is one of five, but their verdict must be unanimous.]
Criminal trials, except in case of trivial offenses, it is generally necessary to hold before a jury, by express provisions of the Constitution.[Footnote: See Cooley, "Constitutional Limitations," 389.] During the colonial era the defendant was allowed in Massachusetts to waive a jury, even in capital cases.[Footnote: Proceedings of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, VI, 95.] Statutory permission to the same effect has since been given in some States where there is no constitutional provision to the contrary.[Footnote: State v. Worden, 46 Connecticut Reports, 349.] In civil causes, the right to demand a jury in petty cases has been restricted in a number of States.[Footnote: In New Hampshire, for instance, a constitutional amendment was passed in 1877 denying it in cases involving less than $100, unless title to land is involved.]
At common law the judges were accustomed and allowed to put great pressure upon juries, if necessary, to force them to unite in rendering a verdict. They could be kept together without food or beds all night, and even carted about from one court town to another until they were ready to report an agreement. Very little of this practice remains in the United States. In some States they are allowed to separate and go to their homes at night during the trial even of a capital case, and while deliberating over their verdict they are generally supplied with food and other comforts.
The right of trial by jury was limited at common law to trials of what are called "issues of fact;" that is, of the truth of a statement of material facts made by one party and denied by the other. If, therefore, in a civil cause a judgment has been ordered for the plaintiff without a verdict, as where the defendant has failed to appear and answer, it is for the court to say for the recovery of what amount of damages the judgment shall be rendered. It may inquire into this by the aid of a jury, but such a jury need not consist of twelve. The inquiry may also be conducted by the judge alone.[Footnote: Dyson v. Rhode Island Company, 25 Rhode Island Reports; 57 Atlantic Reporter, 771.]
In most of our States this common law practice has been abandoned, and damages, in cases of the kind above described, would be assessed by a jury of twelve. This is because otherwise a defendant who did not dispute his liability for the act complained of and only wished to reduce the amount of damages claimed in the writ might, after declining to appear and plead, come forward with a motion to be heard by the court on the question of damages. A motion of that kind would naturally be granted, and the effect would be to transfer the decision of the only actual controversy between the parties from a jury to a judge. In Connecticut the old practice was maintained until 1907, and the courts held that on the hearing as to the damages, in actions where there had been no contract between the parties to fix the rule of assessment, the defendant might show, if he could, that only nominal damages should be given, because really the plaintiff had no cause of action at all.[Footnote: Lennon v. Rawitzer, 57 Conn. Reports, 583; 19 Atlantic Reporter, 334.] The result was that many suits arising out of railway accidents in that State were brought against the company in fault in other States in which process could be served to compel its appearance, and where a full jury trial could be secured. The legislature finally interposed and gave the plaintiff a right to claim a trial by jury, notwithstanding a default.[Footnote: Public Acts of 1907, 665.]
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FORMALITIES IN JUDICIAL PROCEDURE
The sessions of a court of record of general jurisdiction are daily opened by a formal proclamation made, at the command of the judge, by the crier or sheriff's officer in attendance. In many States the ancient English style of expression has been preserved, which dates back to the Norman conquest, and begins with a cry of "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez." These proclamations are often closed with such words as (for instance) "God save the Commonwealth of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations." The adjournment from day to day is announced in a similar but less elaborate manner.
Many courts hold a certain number of stated "terms" annually, the first day of which is fixed by statute, and each of which is adjourned whenever the business that may come before it is finished, lasting sometimes but a few days and sometimes months. In a number of States such terms are opened by prayer offered by a minister of religion, invited in for the purpose by the sheriff or court attendant. No regular chaplain is employed, and one term may be opened by a Presbyterian minister and the next by a Roman Catholic priest.
In some of the smaller counties in Massachusetts the sheriff or his deputy daily escorts the judge to and from the court house, in accordance with what has been the usage from colonial times.
Formerly it was the practice in New England to ring the bell of the principal church in the town daily at the hour when court opened.[Footnote: This was continued in Connecticut until the last quarter of the nineteenth century.]
In many courts it is the custom for all present to rise on a signal from the sheriff or marshal when the judge enters the court room to take his seat on the bench. This is the general usage in the federal courts and in the appellate courts of States. In the latter a formal proclamation is often made by the sheriff to announce the coming of the judicial procession, concluding with a "God save the Commonwealth." In some States formal bows are interchanged between bench and bar as the judges take their places, after which the court is opened by the customary proclamation and the bar then requested by the judges to resume their seats.
The rules of official precedence are strictly observed in appellate courts. In entering the court room the chief justice advances first, and his associates follow in the order of the dates of their commissions, the senior associate justice taking his seat on his right, the second in seniority on his left, the third in seniority on the right of the senior associate justice, and so on; the junior in commission occupying the end seat on the left of the bench.
The members of the Supreme Court and of the Circuit Court of Appeals of the United States have always worn black silk gowns. The members of the Supreme Court of South Carolina have worn them from a time antedating the Revolution. The New York Court of Appeals in 1877, at the request of the bar, preferred through David Dudley Field, adopted the practice,[Footnote: In 1903 it was extended to nisi prius courts held by justices of the Supreme Court.] and the same thing has since been done by appellate courts in several other States. In one of these, Massachusetts, they had been worn in the colonial era. About 1760, Chief Justice Hutchinson introduced gowns and cassocks there on the Supreme bench, and also gowns, bands, and tie-wigs for lawyers who were admitted as barristers of the Superior Court.[Footnote: "Life and Works of John Adams," II, 133, note, 197.] The latter soon abandoned these, but gowns were retained by the judges until 1793.[Footnote: Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, V, 22; Amory, "Life of James Sullivan," I, 261, note.] In North Carolina gowns and bands were worn by the members of the Supreme Court in 1767.[Footnote: Proceedings of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, VI, 389.] In New Jersey, the bar were at one time required to assume them by a rule of the Supreme Court, but the rule was vacated in 1791.
At the first opening of the Supreme Court of the United States, in 1790, Chief Justice Jay wore a gown with salmon-colored facings on the front and sleeves, of the style then used by Doctors of Laws created by the University of Dublin, from which he had received that degree.[Footnote: 134 U. S. Reports, Appendix.] It has not since, in that or any other American court, been the practice for judges to wear academic hoods or other decorations on the bench.
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Counsel, in addressing the court, rise and begin with "May it please the Court," "May it please your honor," or, before a court in bane, "May it please your honors." The term "you" would never be used to a judge on the bench; but that of "your Honor" would be employed.
Great pains is taken by the officers in attendance to prevent anything on the part of the audience that could in any way disturb the proceedings, such as loud conversation or unnecessary moving from place to place.
There is a good deal of antique form in the manner in which, under the direction of the clerk, prisoners are arraigned and juries are made up or "impanelled" for the trial of a cause.
In charging a jury, the judge commonly rises and the jury do the same.
When sentence is pronounced on a conviction for crime the prisoner is required to rise. In cases of capital offenses, he is asked by the judge if he has anything to say why judgment of death should not be pronounced against him. It is highly improbable at that stage of the cause that he should have anything to urge which has not been already considered, but the ancient English practice in this respect is still followed, for it is not absolutely impossible that something may have occurred since the verdict that would affect the judgment.
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TRIAL COURTS FOR CIVIL CAUSES
The great bulk of litigation is confined to the civil trial courts, that is, to courts for the trial of ordinary causes between man and man. It also has its seat in the trial courts of the States, for not only is the judicial power of the United States confined by the Constitution within narrow limits, but these have been made still narrower by the action of Congress from time to time.
Most lawsuits never get to trial. The defendant generally has no defense, and is well aware of it. The suit is brought to obtain security or force a settlement. He employs no lawyer and lets things take their course. The result is a judgment against him for default of appearance; for if one who has been duly summoned to court to answer to a demand fails to attend and answer, the court assumes that there is no answer that he could make, and disposes of the cause on such evidence as the plaintiff may produce. On the other hand, the plaintiff often does not care for a judgment. He has become satisfied that, if he got one, he could not collect it, or he has availed himself of the suit to secure a compromise of the matter in demand on satisfactory terms. In such case, or if, after bringing an action, he becomes convinced that he cannot maintain it, he withdraws it, or if the defendant insists, suffers a judgment to go against him, called a nonsuit.
In some States the writ or process by which the action is begun must be accompanied by a full statement of the particular nature of the plaintiff's claim. In others this is not required, and such a statement is only furnished when specially ordered by the court. If the case goes to trial on the merits, it will be on such a statement furnished by the plaintiff, and on some paper filed by the defendant by way of answer. Occasionally these pleadings, as they are called, are such as to call out further statements or claims by way of reply and rejoinder. Their form is now generally regulated by statutes, and is much the same in most of the States, being based upon a system known as "Code Pleading," which originated in New York about the middle of the nineteenth century. It is simpler and less technical than the system under the common law which it replaced.
If the defendant has any objections to the maintenance of the suit, on such a ground as that it is brought in a wrong court, or a wrong way, these are first disposed of. Then, if he asserts that the plaintiff on his own showing has no case, or if the plaintiff asserts that the defense set up is insufficient on its face, this being a question of law, the judge decides it without the aid of a jury. When, however, the facts are in dispute, a jury must be called in, if either party claims it, in an action not of an equitable nature, when the matter in controversy is one of any considerable amount.
In this country we adhere to the old common law mode of taking exceptions to the legal sufficiency of written pleadings. This was by filing a paper called a "demurrer," in which the particular objections were set out, unless, as was frequently the case, they were so fundamental as to be apparent at the first glance. In many States, however, the objections must always be particularized. In England demurrers are no longer used. Her Judicature Act of 1873 put an end to the common law system of pleading, reconstituted her whole method of judicial procedure, and authorized the judges to make rules and orders from time to time to adopt the new scheme to convenience in practice. One of their orders, passed in 1883, abolished demurrers. In place of them, the party desiring to have the benefit of points of law arising on the face of the pleadings may state his point to the court and ask to have it set down for separate argument before proceeding to a trial of the cause on the facts. American lawyers are not satisfied with the reasons which led to this change. They were that the old practice made it a matter of right to claim a special hearing on a law point, while the new order would leave it to the discretion of the judge. The English judges are few and able. Such a plan may work satisfactorily under their administration, but it might often lead to useless delays and expense if introduced in a country where judges are so numerous and of such different qualifications as is the case in the United States.
Our trial courts are now generally held by a single judge. Until the latter half of the nineteenth century it was not uncommon to have three judges sit together in county or city courts. One of them would be a lawyer and the others not.[See Chap. VIII.] In cities the two side judges were generally aldermen. A tribunal thus constituted is better adapted in some respects to trying questions of fact than a single judge. It is a jury of three acting by a majority. But for the conduct of a jury trial it is unwieldy, slow-moving and uncertain. In most cases any question of law or legal practice will be virtually decided by the presiding judge, but he will usually pause to go through the form of consulting his associates. Occasionally they will overrule him, and in such case it will be apt to be by a misunderstanding or misapplication of law. The expense of three judges, however moderate the compensation, has also weighed in favor of an abandonment of the system. It naturally results in paying too little to the chief judge, and too much to the others; and always costs more than it would to pay one man a sufficient salary.
We have not the need of several judges to hold a trial court, which is felt in many countries. They use them for a purpose which our juries supply. For similar reasons Americans have not seen any occasion for organizing special courts, such as are the German Gewerbegerichte and Kaufmannsgerichte, to try special classes of causes. A jury of twelve will be apt to contain some men who will adequately represent those interested in any ordinary industrial or commercial controversy.
Petty suits not of an equitable nature must generally be brought before a justice of the peace, who disposes of them himself, both as to matters of evidence and fact, but subject to an appeal to a higher court in which a jury trial can be had. In some States he can summon in a jury of six and leave the facts to their determination. The pleadings before him are usually in the same form as in the higher courts.
In jury trials of civil causes the judicial function is, so far as possible, divided into two distinct parts. All questions of pure law are decided by the judge alone. All questions of pure fact are decided by the jury alone. All questions turning on the application of the law to the facts are decided by the jury under instructions from the judge as to what applications of the law it would be competent for them to make under the particular circumstances which they may find to have existed. The judge also has a large discretionary power in minor matters arising in the course of the suit. It is for him to say when it shall be tried; whether the written pleadings are in proper shape, and if not whether they may be amended; and in what order and within what limits the evidence may be introduced.
No countries in the world have so artificial a set of rules of evidence as England and the United States. This is because in no other country is the right to a jury trial so extensive. Many of these rules date back to the early history of the English common law. It was a time of general illiteracy. The ordinary juror could not read or write. His powers of reasoning and discrimination had had little or no cultivation. It was thought dangerous to allow him to listen to any evidence that was not of the clearest and best kind. It was thought necessary to bring all witnesses in person before him and let him hear their voice and look into their faces in order to give him the fullest possible opportunity to determine whether their testimony was worthy of credit. But while our rules of evidence were devised for jury trials, they are applied with equal rigidity in all trials. A jury may be waived; a single judge may hear the cause; and yet he must rule out of consideration whatever would have been inadmissible if it had been made the subject of a jury trial.
Much that in other countries is helpful in reaching a just conclusion is in this manner shut out in American courts. A man of the highest character, for instance, may say before twenty listeners that he saw a certain person shoot and kill another, and state how the whole thing happened. The person thus accused is sued for damages under a statute permitting such a remedy by the representatives of the man shot. Before the trial the witness of the act dies. He was the sole witness. There is no other testimony to be had. Under our system of practice, those to whom the statement was made cannot be allowed to testify to it. Such testimony would be "hearsay." It would put before the jury two questions, first whether such a statement was really made, and then whether, if made, it was true. The law of evidence says that they ought not to be perplexed by questions upon questions.
The tendency of American legislation of late years has been strongly toward removing some of these artificial bars to getting at the truth. The common law thought it dangerous to allow a jury to hear any witness not under oath, nor under such an oath as implied his belief in the existence of a God, or any witness having a pecuniary interest, in the event of the cause. An atheist or an agnostic could not testify. The plaintiff and the defendant could not. These restrictions have been almost everywhere repealed.
The trial judge has also, and necessarily, a large discretionary power in excluding testimony which has only a remote bearing on the case, and in limiting or extending the examination of a witness so as on the one hand to prevent needless repetition, and on the other to get out the truth and nothing but the truth. He has similar authority to restrain the arguments of counsel within reasonable limits.
A trial judge suddenly called upon to make a ruling on some point of law in the progress of a trial may make a wrong one. If so, he may have an opportunity to correct it at a later stage of the proceeding. He has admitted evidence which should have been excluded. In his charge to the jury he may instruct them to disregard it, and his error will thus be cured. He has excluded evidence which should have been admitted. Before the case is closed he can change his ruling and allow it to come in. But so long as any ruling stands unchanged, whether it is in accordance with law or not, it is the law of the case for the purposes of the trial. Counsel may endeavor to procure a reconsideration of the question, but they cannot ask the jury to adopt a different view from that taken by the judge. Their only remedy is by a motion for a new trial, after the verdict, or proceedings in error before a higher court.
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Trial courts generally sit during a greater number of hours in the day than appellate courts. This is particularly true when they are held for short terms in a country shire town. In the larger cities where they sit during a large part of the year they generally have established hours from which they rarely depart, such as from ten in the morning to five in the afternoon, with a recess of an hour for lunch or dinner. Formerly nine o'clock was a more common hour for opening court. In New York in 1829 the sittings were from eight to three, when there was a recess of two hours for dinner, and then from five till some time in the evening, occasionally as late as ten.[Footnote: Kennedy, "Memoirs of William Wirt," II, 231.]
The modern tendency everywhere is toward a shortening of the hours of daily session, especially when an official stenographer is employed.
The clerk keeps a docket-book in which each case returned to court is entered and numbered. The entry reads thus:
John Doe Smith
Richard Roe Jones.
Doe is here the plaintiff and Smith is the attorney who brought the suit for him. Roe is the defendant and Jones is the attorney who appears in his behalf. If there be more than one party on either side the words _et al._ will be added, signifying as the case may be, _et alius, et alii_ or et alium,_ or should there be three or more defendants, _et als_, signifying _et alios_.[Footnote: Another book is kept for criminal cases, which are docketed as "The State _v._ John Doe," in others as "The People _v._ John Doe," and in the federal courts as "The United States _v._ John Doe."] From this docket trial lists are made up for each term or session of court. Assignments for trial are sometimes made by the court and sometimes arranged by the bar subject to the approval of the court. Several cases are commonly set down for each day, so that if one falls out another may be ready, and in every case so assigned the parties must be prepared at their peril to appear and proceed at any minute when called upon.
In courts having a large docket of cases it is customary to set apart one day in the week for the disposition of incidental motions and for arguments on points of law.
When a case is called for trial the plaintiff's counsel opens by stating its nature and the main facts as set out in the declaration or complaint which he expects to prove. Sometimes the pleadings on both sides are read at length. The plaintiff's witnesses are then examined orally, after the examination of each an opportunity being given for his cross-examination by the other party. The testimony of witnesses whose attendance cannot be had, which may include any living out of the State (or, in the federal courts, over one hundred miles from the place of trial), or who are infirm or sick, may be secured by previously taking it down out of court in the form of a written deposition, under oath, before a magistrate. In such case the adverse party must have such notice as to enable him to be present and cross-examine the deponent, or to file written cross-interrogatories. Depositions are received in the same manner and subject to the same objections as oral testimony. In cases in equity a considerable part of the testimony is generally presented in written form, either by depositions of the kind described or certified by a special officer appointed by the court for the purpose, who may be called an "examiner."
When the plaintiff's case has been thus presented, his attorney announces that he "rests." The defendant's attorney then states what he proposes to prove, and produces his evidence, at the close of which the plaintiff has the opportunity to meet any testimony so produced as to points not covered by the plaintiff's case as presented "in chief," by rebutting testimony. Should there be any new point brought out in the latter which the defendant had not anticipated in presenting his case (which rarely happens), he may now be allowed to introduce further testimony as to that.
At the close of the evidence the plaintiff's counsel argues for his client; the defendant's counsel replies; and the plaintiff's counsel is then heard in answer to anything which has been said in behalf of the other side.
If the trial has been had before a judge without a jury he then commonly takes the written pleadings and makes up his decision at his leisure; but if the case is plain may give final judgment on the spot.
If the trial has been before a jury the parties argue as to facts in dispute to them, but as to the law upon these facts to the court.[Footnote: See Chap. XII.]
In some States the arguments on the latter question are made before those on the former, and written requests or "prayers" for instructions to the jury as to the law are submitted to the court, upon which it passes before the jury are addressed. In most States there is no such division of argument; judge and jury are addressed in turn during the same speech, and counsel first know what view of the law is taken by the court when the judge gives his final charge.
In every jury trial, after all the evidence is in and the arguments concluded, it is the duty of the court to instruct the jury as to what the precise controversy is and what disposition of the cause it would be permissible for them to make. If in view of facts which are undisputed by either party there can be in law but one conclusion, the judge should direct them to render a verdict accordingly. But if the facts might fairly be found as they are claimed to be by either party, he instructs them as to the law applicable to the facts so claimed by each. He can, at common law and by the practice in most States, give his own opinion as to the weight of evidence on any point in controversy.
The common law requires unanimity on the part of the jury before they can return a verdict. If it cannot be had they report a disagreement, and the case stands over for another trial.
If they agree upon a verdict, it must, to be effective, be accepted by the court. This acceptance is ordinarily a matter of course, but if the verdict is plainly contrary to the evidence or to the law as laid down in the charge, it may be set aside and a new trial ordered. If it gives damages which are plainly excessive, the judge may set it aside, unless the prevailing party enters a remittitur of a certain amount, that is, formally stipulates on the record that the verdict shall stand only for such sum as the judge may have thus indicated to be what seems to him to be the utmost limit that ought to be allowed. In some States, if the verdict is unsatisfactory to the judge, though not so manifestly against the evidence that he would be justified in setting it aside, he may return the jury to a second consideration of the cause.
When a verdict is accepted judgment is rendered in accordance with it. To this rule there are, however, certain exceptions. It sometimes happens that a verdict is returned for a plaintiff whose case as stated in his pleadings is one which in law is no case; the defendant having failed to take this objection and made his contest only on the facts. He then can ask the court not to render any judgment upon it. This is technically called a motion in arrest of judgment. Again, the verdict may be rendered, by reason of the state of the written pleadings, on some immaterial point, in favor of one party, when there are other points of controlling importance in favor of the other, on which it has been admitted that he is in the right. In such case the party against whom the verdict is rendered may ask for judgment in his own favor notwithstanding the verdict.
Verdicts are ordinarily given directly for the plaintiff or the defendant. Printed blanks for such verdicts, one headed "plaintiff's verdict," and the other "defendant's verdict," are often handed to the jury when they retire, to choose from according as they may find the facts. Such a verdict is called a general verdict. Occasionally one of a different form is returned at the request of counsel and by the permission of the court. This is termed a "special verdict," and sets forth the particular facts as found by the jury in detail, without finding the ultimate issue for either party. This is only proper when such a finding would have been simply a legal conclusion from these facts. A special verdict leaves it to the court to apply the law and render judgment as that requires.
In many causes the testimony is all taken out of court, before some officer or arm of the court, who only reports his conclusions from it as to the matters in controversy. This is a common practice in equity, the case being sent to a "master in chancery" for this purpose. In cases of a common law nature the consent of both parties is generally required; but with that any cause may be disposed of before an arm of the court commonly termed an "auditor," "referee" or "committee."
The report of such a hearing sometimes is confined to the facts which are found to have been established. In other cases it may extend to a provisional decision of questions of law arising on those facts. The ultimate decision of any question of law is always for the court, and if it accepts the report it is its duty to draw the proper legal conclusions from the facts established. As to whether the report shall be accepted, and as to the legal questions arising upon it, the parties have a right to be heard in court. Improper or irregular conduct on the part of the officer making the report may be shown as a cause for rejecting it. If it is accepted the facts found generally stand as conclusively established.
Equity causes are generally tried before a single judge, who decides all questions both of fact and law, proceeding in the same manner as in a common law cause in which a jury has been waived.
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The English common law regarded wills of lands as in the nature of conveyances, the due execution of which, if ever called in question in a lawsuit, was to be established then and there; but if never so called in question, need never be established at all by any judicial proceeding. Wills of personal property, on the other hand, were to be proved as soon as might be before an ecclesiastical court, and unless so established were ineffectual.
This difference in the treatment of the two kinds of wills was due to the legal principle that so far as personal rights and obligations were concerned the personality of the dead was, after a certain fashion, continued in existence by attributing personality to their estates. These were to be administered by some one as the "personal representative" of the former owner. This personal representative discharged his personal obligations so, far as there might be personal estate or rights of property sufficient for the purpose. He was styled an executor if designated by will; an administrator if there were no testamentary appointment. A man's lands, however, went upon his death straight to his heirs unless he had by will conveyed them to some one else. That when he died they were part of his estate did not charge them with the fulfillment of his personal obligations. For the discharge of these the creditor must resort to his personal representative. His heirs occupied no such position.
The administrator was always appointed by an ecclesiastical court and rendered his accounts to it. Long use and the existence of a State church with a regular judicial establishment, made such a system tolerable to the English people; but the new conditions under which those of them came who planted the American colonies made it both intolerable and impossible here.
While most of the colonies had an established church, none had bishops or bishops' courts. The bishop of London claimed a certain jurisdiction over all, but in none was it recognized as extending over the estates of the dead. In the Crown colonies the instructions to the Governors generally referred to it as sanctioned by the government but not as extending to the probate of wills. Some of the Governors were given ex-officio full probate powers.[Footnote: "The American Jurisdiction of the Bishop of London," Transactions of the American Antiquarian Society, Vol. XIII, 188, 194, 197.]
The same considerations which early led to the general adoption of a recording system for deeds of land in all the colonies extended to wills, since they also might convey it. Such records, to attain their purpose, had to be public in the fullest sense. Nothing was allowed to go upon them which had not some kind of authoritative sanction proceeding from the State. Deeds were first to be acknowledged before a magistrate. As to wills, the practice finally came to be to require them to be established once for all as the act of the testator by a court invested with special jurisdiction for that purpose, and also over all estates of those who die leaving no will. This, if organized for that special function particularly, is ordinarily styled a Court of Probate, occasionally a Surrogate's Court or Orphans' Court. It is sometimes given, and sometimes not given, a certain authority over the real property within the State while the estate is in settlement.
All real estate left by a decedent is ordinarily made, by statute, liable for his debts in case of a deficiency of personal property, except so far as it may be charged with a right of dower. Even if it has gone into the possession of an heir or devisee, the proper Probate Court can order its sale for this purpose, if it should appear on the allowance of the administration account to be necessary.
The formal establishment or "probate" of a will does not affirm the validity of its provisions. It simply adjudges the instrument to be a will legally executed by one competent to make it and who had a home or property within the territorial jurisdiction of the court. Commonly, if not universally, an opportunity is given, either in the first instance or by appeal to a higher court, to have these questions tried before a jury.
The succession of particular persons to the property of the dead is not a matter of natural right. It rests upon positive law and is regulated by the authority of the government at its pleasure.[Footnote: United States v. Perkins, 163 U. S. Reports, 625.] Probate procedure is therefore wholly determined by local legislation and practice.
In many States, probate jurisdiction belongs to the county courts. In others it is invested in local courts for lesser subdivisions of territory with the purpose of cheapening the settlement of estates. In a few these local courts are very numerous, all the towns of the State being distributed into small groups and each furnished with its Probate Court, the judge of which, in many instances, has had no legal training, and receives no compensation except stated fees for such business as may actually come before him. An appeal is given from his orders to a higher court of general jurisdiction. In practice such a system works fairly well. If there are suitable lawyers in the group of towns forming a probate district, one of them who belongs to the prevailing party is generally made the judge if he will accept the office, and if he fills it well is apt to be re-elected, whichever party may then be uppermost. If a lawyer is not appointed and a case of any difficulty presents itself, the judge will probably consult some counsel in whom he feels confidence, and who will be sufficiently flattered by the request to advise him without making any charge for it.
The proper seat of administration is in the State and the local subdivision of the State where the dead man belonged. Proceedings there affect all his personal property wherever it may be found, and generally his real estate situated anywhere in the State. Real estate in another State can be affected by probate proceedings only if they take place there, by its authority. For that purpose "ancillary" administration is often taken out, that is, one designed to serve the interests of the general succession as administered in the seat of the principal administration.
Since the right of a personal representative to act for the estate of the dead comes from the positive law of the particular sovereign having the proper jurisdiction, and since no law of a particular sovereign can be enforced, by virtue of his power or anything dependent on it, outside of his territorial jurisdiction, it follows that no executor or administrator can of right maintain a suit, as such, out of the State from the laws of which he derives his authority. He may take possession of the goods of the estate found in another State, or collect debts due from its citizens if no objection be made, but if forced to claim the aid of judicial process he must first prove his title there before the appropriate Probate Court by taking out ancillary administration, in which case he will probably be compelled to give security for the proper discharge of his duties under such appointment.
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BANKRUPTCY AND INSOLVENCY COURTS
It is within the power of Congress to assume the exclusive regulation of bankruptcy proceedings throughout the United States.[Footnote: U. S. Constitution, Art. I, Sec. 8.] There is in this country no real difference in meaning between the terms bankruptcy and insolvency. Each denotes a status into which one unable to pay his debts, as and when they fall due, may put himself, or be put by his creditors. The remedy is not confined to any particular classes of persons, and no more fault is implied on the part of one who is adjudged a bankrupt than on the part of one who is adjudged an insolvent.
During most of the history of the United States there has been no uniform law on the subject of bankruptcy for the whole country. Three bankrupt Acts were enacted by Congress from time to time during the first century after the adoption of the Constitution. Each followed some serious financial crisis, and was repealed not long after the immediate effects of the crisis had passed away. They were adopted as a kind of [Greek: seisachtheia] to help insolvent debtors to get on their feet again. A later Act passed in 1898 is still in force,[Footnote: 30 U. S. Statutes at Large, 544; 32 id., 797.] and as it contains many provisions which have been found useful by creditors as well as by debtors, it is not unlikely to remain permanently upon the statute-books.
The prosperity of the United States rests mainly on the absolute free trade which exists between the several States. That necessarily results in innumerable credits extended by citizens of one State to those of others, and in immense property interests in each State belonging to non-residents. In case of insolvency full justice can not be worked out except through the legislative powers vested in the United States.
The Act of 1898 allows any one except a corporation to become a voluntary bankrupt. Practically any insolvent debtor can be thrown into involuntary bankruptcy, except wage earners, farmers, incorporated banks, or business corporations owing less than $1,000. This is so even if a State court of insolvency has already taken charge of his affairs; and if that has occurred it is of itself a sufficient reason for bankruptcy proceedings.
Petitions in bankruptcy are preferred to a District Court of the United States. Each bankrupt estate is put in charge of one or more trustees. They can maintain actions to recover or protect it, as a general rule, in the courts of any State as well as in those of the United States.[Footnote: See Bardes v. Bank, 178 U. S. Reports, 524.]
Their title does not extend to anything which by the laws of the State where the bankrupt belongs is exempt from his creditors. Such exemptions differ greatly in different parts of the country. In some States certain property of the value of $5,000 may be exempt; in others the amount which the debtor can retain is comparatively trifling. There is, therefore, no uniformity in the result; but there is, nevertheless, uniformity in the rule under which the results are reached, and this is enough to support the validity of this provision of the statute.[Footnote: Hanover National Bank v. Moyses, 186 U. S. Reports, 181.]
The bankrupt may propose a composition to his creditors, and it may be accepted by a majority of them in number if they also hold the major part of the indebtedness. If such an acceptance is confirmed by the court the entire indebtedness is discharged when the total amount to be paid (including whatever is necessary to discharge all preferred claims) is deposited in court.
A discharge may be granted to every honest bankrupt (whether his estate pays anything to his creditors or not), which clears him forever of all his ordinary debts. It does not apply to taxes nor to liabilities for certain wrongs of an aggravated character; nor can two successive discharges in bankruptcy be procured within six years unless the first was the result of involuntary proceedings.
Whenever there has been no national bankruptcy law in existence, the States have been held to be free to pass such insolvent laws as they might think proper. During the existence of a national bankruptcy law no State insolvent law can be of any force which covers the same field.[Footnote: Ogden v. Saunders, 12 Wheaton's Reports, 213; Tua v. Carriere, 117 U. S. Reports, 201; Ketcham v. McNamara, 72 Conn. Reports, 709, 711; 46 Atlantic Reporter, 146.] Its operation is excluded or suspended as a necessary effect of the enactment of the Act of Congress, although that contains no express provision to that effect.
Most of the States have on their statute-books provisions for a permanent system of insolvency proceedings. In some they are as favorable to the debtor as the United States bankrupt law of 1898: in more they are less favorable. Generally such proceedings are brought before a court of special jurisdiction, constituted both for this purpose and for the settlement of the estates of deceased persons and of those who are incapable of managing their own affairs. In the older States it is often made a condition of a discharge that the creditors shall have received a certain percentage of their claims.
The relief which the States are competent to give either to debtor or to creditor is very inadequate. The discharge of the debtor is of no avail except as against those creditors who were subject to the jurisdiction of the court. None are so subject except those belonging in the State, or actually taking part in the proceedings.
Every bankruptcy or insolvency proceeding is a great lawsuit. The discharge is the final judgment in it. It can bind none who are not parties to the action. Only those are parties who were bound to appear, or who did appear. No one belonging to any other State or country can be bound to appear, unless in the rare case of a personal service of proper process upon him, made while he was within the territorial jurisdiction. Any creditor, wherever he may reside, who files a claim against the insolvent estate, or receives a dividend from it, makes himself a voluntary party. But as against a non-resident who keeps aloof and takes no part in the proceedings the discharge is worthless, even in the courts of the very State by authority of which it was granted.
On the other hand, the creditor gets less aid from the State courts than a trustee in bankruptcy. The trustee in bankruptcy can sue in any court in the country in which the debtor could have sued for the same cause of action. The trustee or assignee in insolvency, acting under the appointment of a State court, can only sue within that State, unless his title has been fortified by a conveyance from the insolvent which would be good at common law. So far as his title rests on a law, by which it was taken away from the bankrupt and vested in him, it is ineffectual wherever that law is ineffectual; and the law of no sovereign is effectual of its own force outside of his territorial jurisdiction.
*[Footnote: Booth v. Clark, 17 Howard's Reports, 322, 337; Hale v. Allinson, 188 U. S. Reports, 56.]*
If, therefore, as is commonly true in estates of any magnitude, part of the assets can only be recovered by suit in other States, there must be ancillary insolvency proceedings there, to clothe the principal assignee with the right of action. Should the insolvent be the owner of land in another State, the title to this can only be transferred in accordance with its law, and a foreign assignment in insolvency will be wholly ineffectual. Nor will ancillary proceedings in insolvency be allowed to prejudice the rights of citizens of the State in which they are instituted to any security which they might otherwise have for debts due them from the insolvent.[Footnote: Ward v. Conn. Pipe Mfg Co., 71 Conn., 345; 41 Atlantic Reporter, 1057; 42 Lawyers' Reports Annotated, 706; 71 Am. State Reports, 207.] The right, however, of every sovereignty to postpone claims under a foreign bankruptcy or insolvency to the interests of its own people is modified in the United States by the constitutional provision that the citizens of each State are entitled to all privileges of citizens in the other States.[Footnote: Blake v. McClung, 172 U. S. Reports, 239.]
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The American system of criminal procedure rests on the principle that the government should decide on the propriety of beginning all prosecutions, and then should bring and maintain, at its own expense, such as it may deem proper.
The first step ordinarily is the filing by an informing officer of a written complaint in the office of some court or with some magistrate, upon which a warrant of arrest issues as of course. In some jurisdictions original informations in a trial court, as distinguished from indictments, can only be filed by leave of court first obtained. Such is the rule in the courts of the United States.[Footnote: United States v. Smith, 40 Federal Reporter, 755.]
There is no such preliminary consultation with judicial officers as characterizes European criminal procedure. The prosecuting officer assumes the entire responsibility of initiating the prosecution and of giving it the particular form that it may assume. He commonly acts only on such matters as are officially brought to his attention by constables or other officers of police. It is rare that the party injured by an offense complains to him personally. Hence many of the lesser offences go unpunished, particularly in large cities, because the police fail to report them, on account of favoritism or corruption.
The warrant refers to the complaint for its support. Between them, the offense charged, the person accused, and the thing to be done by the officer who is to make service must be particularly stated. "General warrants," that is, warrants of arrest or seizure, not specifying the person who is to be arrested, nor the particular place where the seizure is to be made, are expressly forbidden by the fourth amendment of the Constitution of the United States as respects federal courts, and as respects those of the States, are generally prohibited by their Constitutions.
Any private individual may, by night or day, arrest without warrant one whom he sees committing a felony or a breach of the peace or running off with goods which he has stolen. If he knows that a felony has been committed and has reasonable grounds for suspecting that it was the act of a certain person, he may arrest the latter, although without personal knowledge of his guilt.
A sheriff, constable, or other peace officer may arrest without warrant any one whom he has reasonable ground for suspecting to be guilty of a felony, although it may turn out that no such felony was ever committed. For any ordinary misdemeanor he could not, at common law, arrest without a warrant, unless he personally witnessed the wrongful act or was near enough to hear sounds indicating what was being done.
In practice, officers of local police arrest freely on mere suspicion and with no personal knowledge either that any offense has been committed or that, if any, the person taken in charge was connected with it. The only risk which they run is of an action for damages, and that is slight. If one were brought and they showed that they acted in good faith and not wholly without cause, the amount recovered would probably be very small, and in any case it would be difficult to collect a judgment against one of them, as they are generally men of small means.
In some of the original States a justice of the peace or higher magistrate, in whose actual presence certain misdemeanors were committed, could deal with the offender summarily and sentence him to a fine without any written complaint or warrant. This was a survival of colonial conceptions of the majesty of official station, and the statutes justifying the practice soon became practically obsolete.
It is one of the distinguishing features of the English system of criminal procedure that any private individual can initiate a criminal prosecution, and that prosecutions are generally instituted in that manner. In doing so, he exercises a right belonging to every member of the general public, and the proceeding is, in that point of view, a public one.[Footnote: See Maitland, "Justice and Police," 141.] At common law there were but two guaranties against thus bringing forward frivolous or malicious accusations. The complainant was obliged to verify his charge by oath, and he was liable to a civil action if the defendant was acquitted and it appeared that there was no reasonable ground for the prosecution.
In some of our States, also, if any private individual files a complaint under oath before a proper magistrate accusing another of a properly specified offense, a warrant of arrest may issue. In many there are statutes authorizing qui tam actions to be brought by any one. These are actions to recover a statutory penalty prescribed for some wrongful act in the nature of a misdemeanor. The term qui tam comes from the Latin terms of the old English writ used for such proceedings, in which the plaintiff describes himself as one qui tam pro domino rege quam pro seipso in hoc parte sequitur. The plaintiff is styled "a common informer," and his action is for the joint benefit of himself and of the State, or of some other public corporation or officers designated by the statute. He is sometimes given an option to sue in the form of a civil action, or by an information and the use of criminal process. In proceedings of the latter description a warrant issues upon which the defendant is liable to arrest.[Footnote: Canfield v. Mitchell, 43 Conn. Reports, 169.] The action may, under some statutes, be brought in the name of the government, though by and at the cost of the informer. In such case, unless it is otherwise provided, he retains the exclusive management of the cause as fully as if he appeared as the sole plaintiff on the face of the record. If the plaintiff obtains judgment, and collects the penalty, he must pay half of it over to the government. If he fails, he is personally liable to the defendant for the taxable costs of the action. Under such a statute, a public prosecuting officer can sue for the entire penalty, whenever no action has been brought by a private individual.
The tendency of modern American legislation is toward placing the collection of penalties for misdemeanors wholly in the hands of public officers. The qui tam action is certainly a cheap mode of enforcing laws, and one likely to be pressed to a prompt issue. As observed by the late Judge Deady, "prosecutions conducted by such means compare with the ordinary methods as the enterprising privateer does to the slow-going public vessel."[Footnote: United States v. Griswold, 24 Federal Reporter, 361; 30 id., 762.] But they appeal to sordid motives and are liable to abuse. One who is exposed to such a suit often gets a friend to bring it, in order to forestall proceedings by others or by the State, and with a view to delaying or defeating the collection of the penalty. These considerations induced Parliament to restrict the remedy in England as early as the reign of Henry VII, and have proved of equal force in course of time in the United States.