Claassen v. United States/Opinion of the Court

Claassen v. United States
Opinion of the Court by Horace Gray

United States Supreme Court

142 U.S. 140

Claassen  v.  United States

There can be no doubt of the sufficiency of the first count on which the defendant was convicted. It avers that the defendant was president of a national banking association that by virtue of his office he received and took into his possession certain bonds, (fully described,) the property of the association; and that, with intent to injure and defraud the association, he embezzled the bonds, and converted them to his own use. On principle and precedent, no further averment was requisite to a complete and sufficient description of the crime charged. U.S. v. Britton, 107 U.S. 655, 669, 2 Sup. Ct. Rep. 512; King v. Johnson, 3 Maule & S. 539, 549; Starkie, Crim. Pl. (2d Ed.) 454; 3 Chit. Crim. Law, 981; 2 Bish. Crim. Proc. §§ 315, 322. This count, and the verdict of guilty returned upon it, being sufficient to support the judgment and sentence, the question of the sufficiency of the other counts need not be considered.

In criminal cases, the general rule, as stated by Lord MANSFIELD before the Declaration of Independence, is 'that, if there is any one count to support the verdict, it shall stand good, notwithstanding all the rest are bad.' Peake v. Oldham, Cowp. 275, 276; Rex v. Benfield, 2 Burrows, 980, 985. See. also, Grant v. Astle, 2 Doug. 722, 730. And it is settled law in this court, and in this country generally, that in any criminal case a general verdict and judgment on an indictment or information containing several counts cannot be reversed on error if any one of the counts is good, and warrants the judgment, because, in the absence of anything in the record to show the contrary, the presumption of law is that the court awarded sentence on the good count only. Locke v. U.S., 7 Cranch, 339, 344; Clifton v. U.S., 4 How. 242, 250; Snyder v. U.S., 112 U.S. 216, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 118; Bond v. Dustin, 112 U.S. 604, 609, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 296; 1 Bish. Crim. Proc. § 1015; Whart. Crim. Pl. & Pr. § 771. The opposing decision of the house of lords, in 1844, in the well-known case of O'Connell v. Queen, was carried, as appears by the report in 11 Clark & F. 155, by the votes of Lord DENMAN, Lord COTTENHAM, and Lord CAMPBELL against the votes of Lord LYNDHURST and Lord BROUGHAM, as well as against the opinions of a large majority of the judges consulted, and the universal understanding and practice of the courts and the profession in England before that decision. It has seldom, if ever, been followed in the United States. In Com. v. Railroad, 133 Mass. 383, 392, and in Wood v. State, 59 N. Y. 117, 122, relied on by the plaintiff in error, the general rule was not impugned, and judgment upon a general verdict was reversed because of erroneous instructions duly excepted to by the defendant at the trial, expressly authorizing the jury to convict upon an insufficient count. In the case now before us the record does not show that any instructions at the trial were excepted to, and the jury did not return a general verdict against the defendant on all the counts, but found him guilty of the offenses charged in each of the five counts now in question. This being the case, and the sentence being to imprisonment for not less than five years nor more than ten, which was the only sentence authorized for a single offense under the statute on which the defendant was indicted, there is no reason why that sentence should not be applied to any one of the counts which was good.

The objections assigned and argued to the rulings and instructions at the trial cannot be considered by this court. Upon writ of error, no error in law can be reviewed which does not appear upon the record or by bill of exceptions made part of the record. The case settled by the judge presiding at the trial, pursuant to a rule of the circuit court, was for the single purpose of a hearing in banc in that court, as upon a motion for a new trial, and is no part of the record on error. No bill of exceptions was, or, as we have already adjudged, could have been allowed by the circuit court to the ruling and instructions at the trial, because the conviction of the defendant was before the passage of the judiciary act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, and while the laws did not provide for or permit a bill of exceptions in such a case as this. Neither the assignment of errors nor the plea of in nullo est erratum can give this court jurisdiction of errors not appearing on the face of the record. In re Claasen, 140 U.S. 200, 11 Sup. Ct. Rep. 735. Judgment affirmed.

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).

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