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United States Supreme Court

201 U.S. 131

Valentina  v.  Mercer

 Argued: February 27, 1906. --- Decided: March 12, 1906

In this case, as in that of Felts v. Murphy, decided this day [[[201 U.S. 123]], 50 L. ed. --, 26 Sup. Ct. Rep. 366]. the question arises on an appeal from an order of the circuit court of the United States for the district of New Jersey, refusing appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Our power to interfere in cases of this nature is limited entirely to the question of jurisdiction. If the state court had jurisdiction to try the case, and had jurisdiction over the person of the accused, and never lost such jurisdiction, the Federal circuit court was right in denying the application of petitioner for a writ, and its order must be affirmed. A writ of this nature cannot perform the function of a writ of error. We again cite the authorities referred to in the Felts Case: Ex parte Bigelow, 113 U.S. 328, 25 L. ed. 1005, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 542; Re Lennon, 166 U.S. 548, 552, 41 L. ed. 1110, 1112, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 658; Re Eckart, 166 U.S. 481, 41 L. ed. 1085, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 638.

The contention of the counsel for the petitioner is that the proceedings upon the trial, which resulted in appellant's sentence to death, did not amount to a trial at common law, or a proceeding authorized by any statute. That it was a mere inquiry to determine the degree of murder of which defendant was guilty, and hence she has never had a trial by due process of law, and the action of the state court was without jurisdiction. A perusal of the charge of the court to the jury shows that the whole case was presented to the jury upon the evidence that was produced in court. Upon all the evidence given the court stated to the jury that there was no evidence to show that the defendant killed the deceased in her necessary self-defense, and the court instructed the jury that it would not be justified in acquitting the defendant on the ground of self-defense. The court further said that there was no question of manslaughter in the case, and that, not only as a necessary conclusion from the evidence, but upon the admitted facts in the case, the defendant was guilty of the crime of murder, and the only question left for the consideration of the jury was whether it was murder in the first degree or second degree. The court gave an extended explanation as to what constituted murder in the first degree and what constituted murder in the second degree, and stated that the defendant was guilty of murder in the second degree, unless the evidence satisfied the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to take the life of deceased, and that the intent was carried into execution deliberately, wilfully, and with premeditation. Finally, the court submitted to the jury the case, and instructed it to consider all the evidence according to the recollection of the jury, and giving to the evidence such weight as it possessed on the mind of the jury. The court stated it was the duty of the jury to determine whether the defendant intended to kill the deceased, and carried out that purpose wilfully, deliberately, and with premeditation. If she did, she was guilty of murder in the first degree, and it was the duty of the jury to say so. If not, then, on the admitted facts, she was guilty of murder in the second degree, and it was the duty of the jury to say that by its verdict. The jury found the petitioner guilty of murder in the first degree.

The charge of the court was the subject of review by the court of last resort of the state of New Jersey, and it was held by that court to be without error. Upon the record in this case there can, in our judgment, be no possible doubt that the petitioner has had a valid trial by a court having jurisdiction of the subject-matter and of the person of the accused, and that there was no loss of jurisdiction over either at any time during the trial. What effect was to be given by the court to the admission of counsel (above set forth) was a question of law for the court to decide, and the charge of the court did not oust it of jurisdiction to proceed in the trial of the case. This is to us so plain a proposition that it is unnecessary to enlarge upon it.

Having no power to review on this writ any other question than that of the jurisdiction of the court in the trial and sentence pronounced upon the verdict of guilty, and concluding that there was the necessary jurisdiction the order of the Circuit Court refusing the writ of habeas corpus is affirmed.


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).