Andersen v. United States/Opinion of the Court

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Andersen v. United States by Melvin Fuller
Opinion of the Court
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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

170 U.S. 481

ANDERSEN  v.  UNITED STATES


1. The cause assigned in support of the demurrer to the indictment was that it did 'not specify the locality on the high seas where the alleged offense occurred.' The objection was without merit. The indictment alleged the murder to have been committed 'on the high seas, and within the jurisdiction of this court, and within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the said United States of America, and out of the jurisdiction of any particular state of the said United States of America, in and on board of a certain American vessel.' * * * Nothing more was required to show the locality of the offense. St. Clair v. U.S. 154 U.S. 134, 144, 14 Sup. Ct. 1002. But the point is now made that the indictment was demurrable because it charged the homicide to have been caused by shooting and drowning, which are means contended to be inconsistent in themselves, and not of the same species. This ground of demurrer was not brought forward in the circuit court, although defendant was admonished that he must state all the grounds on which he relied. But, treating it as open to consideration, we think the indictment was clearly sufficient, as ruled, in effect, in St. Clair's Case.

In that case defendant was charged with the murder of Fitzgerald on board the bark Hesper, on the high seas, by striking and beating him with a weapon unknown, and thereby giving him 'several grievous, dangerous, and mortal wounds,' and then and there casting and throwing him from the vessel into the sea, and drowning him, 'of which said mortal wounds, casting, throwing, plunging, sinking, and drowning,' Fitzgerald 'then and there instantly died.' The language used was much the same as that employed in U.S. v. Holmes, 5 Wheat. 412. The indictment was sustained, though the particular objection under consideration was not commented on. The indictment in this case was evidently drawn from that, and charged that Andersen assaulted Saunders with a pistol, with intent to kill him, by the discharge of which he inflicted on him 'several grievous, dangerous, and mortal wounds,' and that he did 'cast and throw from and out of the said vessel into the sea, and plunge, sink, and drown him, the said William Wallace Saunders, sometimes called William Saunders, in the sea aforesaid, of which said mortal wounds, casting, throwing, plunging, sinking, and drowning' Saunders 'then and there instantly died.' And it was further said, as in the indictment against St. Clair, that, by reason of the casting and throwing of Saunders into the sea as aforesaid, the grand jurors 'could not describe the said mortal wounds with greater particularity.'

In Com. v. Webster, 5 Cush. 295, the first count charged an assault and a mortal wound by stabbing with a knife; the second, by a blow on the head with a hammer; and the third, by striking, kicking, beating, and throwing on the ground. The fourth court charged that the defendant feloniously, willfully, and of his malice aforethought, deprived the deceased of life 'in some way and manner, and by some means, instruments, and weapons to the jurors unknown.' The supreme judicial court of Massachusetts was unanimously of opinion that the latter was a good count. The court, speaking through Chief Justice Shaw, said: 'From the necessity of the case, we think it must be so, because cases may be imagined where the death is proved, and even where remains of the deceased are discovered and identified, and yet they may afford no certain evidence of the form in which the death was occasioned; and then we think it is proper for the jury to say that it is by means to them unknown. * * * The rules of law require the grand jury to state their chag e with as much certainty as the circumstances of the case will permit, and, if the circumstances will not permit a fuller and more precise statement of the mode in which the death is occasioned, this count conforms to the rules of law.' In explaining the indictment and the setting out of several modes of death, the chief justice also said: 'Take the instance of a murder at sea: A man is struck down, lies some time on the deck insensible, and in that condition is thrown overboard. The evidence proves the certainty of a homicide by the blow, or by the drowning, but leaves it uncertain by which. That would be a fit case for several counts, charging a death by a blow and a death by drowning, and perhaps a third alleging a death by the joint resuit of both causes combined.'

Com. v. Desmarteau, 16 Gray, 1, was an indictment for murder, containing three counts. The first charged that the murder was committed by casting, throwing, and pushing the deceased into the Connecticut river, and so choking, suffocating, and drowning her; the second, that the death was caused by the blows of some weapon or instrument to the jurors unknown; the third, that the death was caused by the blows and drowning both. It was held that all the counts were in proper legal form, and related to a single offense, and that, as a conviction on any one required the same judgment and the same sentence as a conviction on all, the jury were properly instructed that, if they found the prisoner guilty of the murder as set forth in either, they might return a verdict of guilty, generally.

So an indictment which alleged that death was caused by a wounding, an exposure, and a starving was held in Com. v. Macloon, 101 Mass. 1, not to be bad for duplicity; and it was ruled that it was sufficient to allege that the death resulted from all these means, and to prove that it resulted from all or any of them.

And see Joy v. State, 14 Ind. 139; Woodford v. People, 62 N. Y. 117; State v. Fox, 25 N. J. Law, 536, 601; State v. Johnson, 10 La. Ann. 456; People v. Colt, 3 Hill, 432; Jones v. Georgia, 65 Ga. 621; Rogers v. State, 50 Ala. 102; Gonzales v. State, 5 Tex. App. 584.

In our opinion the indictment was not objectionable on the ground of duplicity or uncertainty.

Granting that death could not occur from shooting and drowning at the same identical instant, yet the charge that it ensued from both involved no repugnancy in the pleading. For the indictment charged the transaction as continuous, and that two lethal means were employed co-operatively by the accused to accomplish his murderous intent; and whether the vital spark had fied before the riddled body struck the water, or lingered until extinguished by the waves, was immaterial.

If the mate had been shot in the rigging, and fallen thence into the sea, an indictment alleging death by shooting and drowning would have been sustainable.

The government was not required to make the charge in the alternative in separate counts. The mate was shot, and his body immediately thrown overboard; and there was no doubt that, if not then dead, the sea completed what the pistol had begun.

2. The venire for the jury in this case was issued after the term began, and it is insisted that it does not appear that it was authorized by any order of court. This was a point not made below, and it appeared on the argument at bar that an order of court directing the jury to be summoned had been duly entered, but omitted from the record because no question had been raised in that regard. A duly-certified copy of that order being produced, counsel for plaintiff in error very properly waived the necessity of issuing a certiorari, on suggestion of diminution, to bring it up. This disposed of the objection as made.

On the trial, plaintiff in error moved to quash the venire on the ground that it should have shown that the jurors were summoned for the trial of this particular case. The motion was overruled. The law did not require jurors necessarily to be u mmoned before the term began, nor the name of the particular person or persons to be tried to be inserted in the writ. This was the November term of the court, and the order was entered on the 2d day of December, and the writ was issued on the 6th of that month, after the commencement of that term, and was in the usual form, directing the persons named to appear on a day named to serve as petit jurors at said term. So far as appears there was no irregularity in summoning and impaneling the jury, and no exception was taken to the jury as impaneled. The point was untenable.

3. One A. J. Hall testified for the government that he built the Olive Pecker, and had sailed her for seven years. He described the vessel, and, in connection with his testimony, certain diagrams and an oil painting of the vessel were introduced without objection. He testified, among other things, that with a deck load of lumber of a certain height, and the vessel on the port tack, a man in the wheelhouse could command a view of the port side. After he had given his testimony, counsel for plaintiff in error 'moved to strike out all testimony as to the condition of the vessel at the time of the casualty.' Counsel for the government insisted that he had asked the witness nothing about that, and the circuit judge said: 'The court does not understand that he has so testified. Anything that would bear that construction, as a matter of course, will be excluded from the jury. I think it is eminently proper that the jury should understand the character or this vessel. This man is familiar with it. He built it. He has commanded it. He is detailing to the jury nothing that took place at the time of the alleged offense. He is giving the general character and situation of the vessel, so that you may understand it, which I think is eminently proper. As he was not on the vessel at the time of this occurrence, the court will not permit him to testify about anything that took place then.' The ruling was correct. Bram v. U.S., 168 U.S. 532, 568, 18 Sup. Ct. 183.

The witness was asked this question: 'Is it customary, in loading vessels with a deck load of lumber, to leave passageways or stairways to go down in different parts of the vessel?' He answered: 'We most always do that when we can, when the lumber comes right, but sometimes we have to go right over it when we can't.' He was then asked: 'Are you, or not, familiar with the deck load of the Olive Pecker when she sailed from Boston on the 20th of June?' He answered: 'No; I don't know anything about that.'

Counsel now contends that defendant moved to strike out the testimony as to what was customary, but the record contains no such motion; and we think the reference must be to the motion above mentioned, which was properly disposed of.

4. John Lind had testified on cross-examination that Andersen asked the mate, "Won't you protect me until we get to port?" and that the mate said: "Get to port! You will get killed anyhow,' or some thing like that.' The question was then put: 'How came he to ask the mate to protect him?' He answered: 'The captain was cussing and treating him badly.' Objection was made by the district attorney on the ground that counsel had no right to go into any altercation between the accused and the captain, but counsel for the accused insisted that he might 'ask what took place between the captain and Andersen that morning, whether the mate was present or not, and let the jury infer whether Andersen was alluding to that when he asked the mate for protection.' The court ruled: 'You may ask it. We want all the facts in the case, and, if it is not relevant testimony, it will be excluded.' The witness thereupon gave an account of the quarrel about the captain's dog. He was then asked: 'Do you know of any other circumstances? Had this captain been brutal or inhuman to this cook in any other way?' This question was objected to on the ground 'that the character of the captain, and his treatment of the accused prior tot his time, was not an issue in this case, which was a trial for the killing of the mate, and was not a part of the res gestae of this case.' After argument, the court sustained the objection and excluded the question, and exception was taken. Counsel for plaintiff in error immediately remarked, 'I mean by the interrogatories I am going to propound now to confine myself to that morning,' and continued the cross-examination. The record makes it plain that all evidence offered as to what occurred that morning was admitted, and that what was excluded in this instance was evidence of the conduct of the captain prior to the day the mate was killed. And there was nothing to indicate that that antecedent conduct of the captain was so connected with the killing of the mate as to form part of the res gestae, or that it could have any legitimate tendency to justify, excuse, or mitigate the crime for the commission of which Andersen was on trial.

5. After the government had closed its case in chief, defendant's counsel moved that a verdict of not guilty be directed, because the indictment charged that the mate met his death by drowning, whereas the proof showed that his death resulted from the pistol shots. There was no error in denying this motion.

We repeat that the indictment charged the death to have resulted from shooting and drowning, and that the fact was uncontroverted that the mate was shot, and immediately thrown into the sea. There was no examination to ascertain whether he was then dead or not. He was lying face down, and was picked up and thrown overboard as ordered by the accused, according to the testimony for the government. Lind and March believed he was dead, Horsburgh said he appeared so, Barstad was doubtful, and Barrial testified he told the cook he was alive.

So far as this motion was concerned, it was enough that the evidence was not conclusive that he was killed by the pistol shots.

And, as already indicated, the government was not required to make the charge in the alternative, and elect to proceed in respect of one means of death rather than the other, where the murderous action was continuous.

6. Several of the errors assigned related to the rulings of the court limiting the testimony to the transactions on the day of the homicide. These rulings were made on certain questions propounded to the accused. His counsel asked: 'Now, I want to ask this question to the witness: I want you to detail, with truth, to the jury, everything that occurred in reference to this business from the time you shipped, on the 16th day of June, until you left the vessel, on the 6th day of August?'

This was objected to, and after argument the court, through Goff, circuit judge, ruled as follows: 'I have no objection to your having the accused commence in his own way, and detail as to him is best, confining himself to the truth, just what took place there on the morning of that day, and without any assistance from you; but I cannot permit him to detail to the jury the incidents of the voyage from the time they left Boston in June, as I understand your question to indicate.' Exception was taken. Counsel then proceeded: 'Q. Did you ship on the Olive Pecker? A. Yes, sir. Q. Did you have trouble with the captain?'

This was objected to, and the court said: 'I must say, Mr. McIntosh, that I fail to see the pertinency of testimony as to a quarrel with the captain in June or in July. Suppose the mate was a party; the charge is that of killing Saunders in August, and the testimony is confined to that time. You can show, if you can, what was the feeling between the accused and the mate, and that it was such growing out of previous quarrels or threats by the mate to take the life of the accused, or anything in that line which would tend to explain the standing of the parties at the time of this occurrence. Now, anything that bears upon what had taken place, so far as the mate is concerned, can go before this jury.' Exception was taken.

Counsel contiu ed: 'Q. You shipped on board the Olive Pecker some time in June, 1897? A. Yes, sir. Q. Now, state to the jury all that occurred between you and the mate during that time, including all the facts and circumstances attending the 6th of August?'

All that part of the question intended to elicit what occurred between the mate and the cook from the time they left Boston was objected to.

The court said: 'The trouble, Mr. McIntosh, is this: In the present condition of the testimony of this witness, it is hard to see the pertinency of it now, but I do not say that it may not be pertinent. You had better first let the witness detail the transactions of the 6th of August, and if anything is developed thereby which makes it pertinent to bring in previous incidents, as tending to explain what took place on the 6th, it can come in.' Exception was taken.

The accused was then asked: 'Detail to the court and jury all the occurrences which took place on the morning of the 6th of August, 1897.' Thereupon the accused gave his account of the transaction of that date, the trip to shore, and the subsequent arrest. After he had concluded, his counsel put this question: 'Now, state what trouble, if any, you had had with this mate previous to this occasion.' The question was objected to on the ground that the testimony of the witness should be confined to what occurred on the day of the homicide. After argument, Goff, J., delivered this opinion:

'The reason I suggested to counsel for the accused that the statement as to the occurrences relating to the killing of the mate should be stated as they took place on that day was that the testimony might be confined to a certain limit. Now, there is no doubt in the world that a party may protect his own life against the party assailing him. If he believes that he is about to suffer harm from one who has attacked, if he bases that belief upon a previous threat, if he bases that upon previous personal encounters, if he bases that upon the known brutal character of the party, the law, out of tender consideration for the frailties of human nature, will permit him to act upon that belief and upon that understanding. But can we apply that in this case? Now, we must look at the matter as it is before the jury, as it is presented by this witness. The witness states that he had a controversy with the captain; that the captain was cruel to him; then, in that hour, he turned to the mate and advised with the mate; he asked the protection of the mate. His conduct, at least, does not indicate that there was any feeling between him and the mate at that time. If the testimony is admissible, it is upon the theory that it must tend to explain the situation as it then existed. He had turned to the mate to ask his protection from the captain. Now, if the mate had attacked him, it would be perfectly competent for Andersen to show that the mate, previous to this day, had threatened him, or had been cruel to him. We must look at the testimony as the witness has given it himself. It was the witness who sought the mate, and not the mate who sought the witness. I fail to see how a party can, under those circumstances, show, either by himself or by another, that he had had a controversy with the party he is about to attack, the day before or the week before, if he has had time to cool. If there had been a controversy of that kind, even under any circumstances of that kind, it does not authorize the party to take the law into his own hands. I must exclude the testimony, and adhere to the intimation I gave some time ago, on another ruling, with reference to threats.'

To this ruling exception was taken. Counsel then said:

'Now, in order that this matter may go down right, and in order that I may save the point, but without any disrespect to the court, I want to propound this question to the witness.

'Q. I don't want you to answer this, Andersen, until the court passes upon it. I want it to go down in the record. I want to ask you whether on the day before you had hd a difficulty with the mate, and, without provocation on your part, the mate had not attempted to throw you overboard?

'Mr. McIntosh: I understand that your honor rules that I cannot ask that?

'The Court: The question is improper, and cannot be answered.'

And to this, exception was taken.

The preliminary rulings of the court, which required the incidents of August 6th to be given at the outset, are not open to criticism. The point to be considered is whether evidence of transactions previous to that day was admissible, in the light of the testimony of the accused in respect of what passed on that day. It will be perceived that no specific offer of proof was made. But, assuming that counsel had offered to show by the accused that he had had trouble with the mate previously to August 6th, and that the day before he had had a difficulty with him. and the mate, without provocation, had attempted to throw the accused overboard, would such testimony by the accused have been admissible, in view of his own detailed account of the homicide and its surrounding circumstances? On what legal principle could it have been held to have a tendency in justification, excuse, or mitigation?

Andersen's story was: That on the morning of August 6th he had a difficulty with the captain about the dog. That the captain cursed him, struck him, and sent him on top the red-hot stove and the pots and pans. That he subsequently appealed to the mate for protection, and he treated the application with scorn and profanity. That some time afterwards he went to the cabin, to sweep it, and that the captain glared at him and cursed him. He commenced sweeping the cabin, and started into the mate's room first. Saw the mate's gun lying on the shelf, and took it down: thinking that, if the worst came to the worst, he would have to defend himself. He finished the cabin, and started into the captain's room. The captain arose, and was about to assault him with a bottle, and he shot him. 'Then I thought about the mate. I ran into the captain's room then, and got his two guns.' He ran up on deck. Asked Lind where the mate was. Was told he was aloft. Looked up and saw him there, and called him down, or waited for him. As the mate came down, he asked Andersen where he got the guns, and where the captain was; but Andersen made no answer to this, and stayed on top of the forecastle house. Then, as he stood on the house with the pistols, and the mate was three feet below, on the forecastle head, but coming towards witness as if 'to take the marline spike off his neck and shove the marline spike into me,' witness pulled his gun and shot him. He shot him several times,-the mate begging him not to shoot. Immediately after that he called up the sailors, and the body was thrown overboard.

It is true that a homicide committed in actual defense of life or limb is excusable, if it appear that the slayer was acting under a reasonable belief that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm from the deceased, and that his act in causing death was necessary in order to avoid the death or great bodily harm which was apparently imminent. But where there is manifestly no adequate or reasonable ground for such belief, or the slayer brings on the difficulty for the purpose of killing the deceased, or violation of law on his part is the reason of his expectation of an attack, the plea of self-defense cannot avail. Wallace v. U.S., 162 U.S. 466, 16 Sup. Ct. 859; Allen v. U.S., 164 U.S. 492, 17 Sup. Ct. 154; Addington v. U.S., 165 U.S. 184, 17 Sup. Ct. 288.

According to his own statement, Andersen, after he had shot the captain, thought about the mate, armed himself with the captain's pistols, went in search of his victim, and finding him aloft on the mainmast, at work, called him down, or, seeing him coming down, awaited him, and shot him. He was not only the aggreassor, but the premeditated aggressor. The captain being dead, he knew the mate would assume command, and that it would be his duty to arrest i m and take him ashore for trial. The imminent danger which threatened him was the danger of the gallows. The inference is irresistible that to avert that danger he killed the mate, cast the bodies into the sea, burned the ship, and took to the open boat. There can be no pretense that he was acting under a reasonable belief that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm at the hands of the mate. He testified, to be sure, that when he had armed himself, gone in search of the mate, and stood on the forecastle house ready to receive him, he thought the mate was going to use against him the marline spike which he had been using at his work in the rigging. and to protect himself against that marline spike, swung around the neck of a man standing three feet below him, the accused shot him down while he was asking for his life. It was, indeed, the duty of the mate to attack Andersen as he stood there with three pistols, fresh from the slaughter of the captain, and in open mutiny. But, as the accused told his story, he was not repelling violence; and, if the mate attempted to make use of the marline spike, it was simply in self-defense.

The case, as Andersen's testimony made it, afforded no basis for the introduction of evidence of prior provocation, or even of injuries previously inflicted, for no overt act on the mate's part provoked the evil intent with which Andersen sought him out on this occasion. Such evidence would not have been relevant, in view of the circumstances, as tending either to make out self-defense, or to reduce the grade of the crime.

We are not insensible to the suggestion that persons confined to the narrow limits of a small vessel, alone upon the sea, are placed in a situation where brutal conduct on the part of their superiors, from which there is then no possible escape, may possess special circumstances of aggravation. But that does not furnish ground for the particular sufferer from such conduct to take the law into his own hands, nor for the suspension of those general rules intended for the protection of all alike, on land or sea.

7. Complaint is made because the court refused to allow a witness to testify as to the general reputation of the captain. If there had been any adequate basis for the contention that Andersen killed the mate in selfdefense, by reason of a reasonable belief in imminent danger from him, evidence of his character for ferocity, brutality, and vindictiveness might have been admissible. Smith v. U.S. 161 U.S. 85, 16 Sup. Ct. 483. But, as the record stood, the character of the captain could have no legal bearing on the issue of the guilt of the accused of the murder of the mate.

8. Various instructions were asked on behalf of the defendant, as well as on behalf of the government, which were, respectively, refused by the court, except so far as included in the instructions given. But the only ruling in this regard pressed on our attention is the alleged error of the court in instructing the jury as follows: 'The other felonious homicide to which I called your attention (manslaughter) is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice, either express or implied. I find it to be my duty, gentlemen of the jury, to say to you that if the defendant has committed a felonious homicide, of which you are the only judges, there is nothing before you that reduces it below the grade of murder.'

This instruction was similar to that given by Mr. Justice McKenna, then circuit judge, which was reviewed and approved in Sparf v. U.S., 156 U.S. 51, 63, 15 Sup. Ct. 273. That case is decisive of this, for the evidence disclosed no ground whatever upon which the jury could properly have reached the conclusion that the defendant was only guilty of an offense included in the one charged, or of a mere attempt to commit the offense charged. The testimony of the accused did not develop the existence of any facts which operated in law to reduce the crime from murder to manslaughter.

The law in recon ition of the frailty of human nature, regards a homicide committed under the influence of sudden passion, or in hot blood, produced by adequate cause, and before a reasonable time has elapsed for the blood to cool, as an offense of a less heinous character than murder. But if there be sufficient time for the passions to subside, and shaken reason to resume its sway, no such distinction can be entertained. And, if the circumstances show a killing 'with deliberate mind and formed design,'-with comprehension of the act, and determination to perform it, the elements of self-defense being wanting,-the act is murder. Nor is the presumption of malice negatived by previous provocation; having no causal connection with the murderous act, or separated from it by such an interval of time as gives reasonable opportunity for the access of fury to moderate. Kerr, Hom. § 68 et seq.; 2 Bish. New Cr. Law, § 673 et seq.; Whart. Cr. Law, § 455 et seq., and cases cited.

There is nothing in Stevenson's Case, 162 U.S. 313, 16 Sup. Ct. 839, to the contrary. The doctrine of Sparf's Case is there reaffirmed,-that 'the jury would not be justified in finding a verdict of manslaughter if there were no evidence upon which to base such a finding, and in that event the court would have the right to instruct the jury to that effect.'

No other error assigned requires notice.

Judgment affirmed.

Mr. Justice McKENNA dissented.

The following is the evidence referred to in the statement:

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).