VALDEZ v. U S(1917)
[244 U.S. 432, 433] Messrs. Timothy T. Ansberry and Challen B. Ellis for plaintiff in error.
[244 U.S. 432, 435] Solicitor General Davis and Assistant Attorney General Warren for defendant in error.
Mr. Justice McKenna delivered the opinion of the court:
Valdez was proceeded against by complaint under the procedure, of the Philippine Islands for the crime of murder. It was circumstantially described as having been committed by Valdez and one Francisco Amante and one Juan Gatmaitan, the latter having been induced by Valdez 'by reason of a promise of reward' (900 pesos) to shoot one Eusebio Yuson with a shotgun furnished by Amante, inflicting nine mortal wounds, instantly killing Yuson.
There was a demurrer filed to the complaint which need not be noticed. Upon the trial of Valdez and Amante, after pleas of not guilty, the court in an opinion circumstantially reviewed the evidence and found Amante not guilty, 'for insufficiency of evidence.' Valdez was found guilty 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' He was sentenced to the penalty of death and to indemnification of the family of the deceased.
At a separate trial Gatmaitan was also found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for life.
There was a motion for rehearing, which was denied.
Valdez and Gatmaitan took separate appeals to the supreme court of the Islands, but, according to the statement of the court, at the request of counsel, the appeals were 'heard and considered together, in order to give counsel for the defense an opportunity to develop any inconsistencies or contradictions which might appear as a result of a critical analysis and comparison of the evidence of record in both cases.'
The judgment against Valdez was affirmed; that against Gatmaitan was modified by the substitution of death for [244 U.S. 432, 440] life imprisonment. Two of the judges dissented, one thinking that the 'accused,' not designating him (presumably Valdez), was entitled 'to an acquittal on the facts presented;' the other being of opinion that the prosecution had 'not proved the guilt of appellants of the crime of which they were convicted.'
The case is here upon a writ of error sued out by Valdez, and the questions presented are, to quote counsel: (1) Whether the absence of the accused during a part of the proceedings in the trial constitutes an error requiring reversal, and (2) whether there was any evidence adequate to warrant the conviction.
The second question may be disposed of first. A negative answer is urged upon a consideration of the credibility of the witnesses, the relative probative strength of their testimonies, their mental and moral defects, the various statements of Gatmaitan, being a witness for the prosecution, first testifying to the guilt of Valdez and by subsequent statement retracting the accusation, and later retracting the retraction, and an asserted absence of motive for the crime.
The elements of these contentions were passed upon by the lower courts and the guilt of Valdez and Gatmaitan determined. It ordinarily would be enough to say that there was justification for the determination; but lest it may be supposed that the guilt of Valdez depended alone upon the testimony of Gatmaitan, he having been an active accomplice in the homicide, some comment becomes necessary and at least a characterization of the evidence.
Gatmaitan's testimony was, of course, an important factor, but it had substantial corroboration. He was shown, it is true, to be a low type of man. One who becomes for hire, as he did, the criminal executor of another's malice, is usually such. No other would accept the shameful service. But it is not reserved for this case to make a [244 U.S. 432, 441] novel contribution to the criminal experience of the country, or to demonstrate that there are such hirers and hirelings; and when the hireling turns state's evidence, as he sometimes does, or his weakness, awed by the penalties of his crime, breaks down and confesses, as it sometimes does, or he changes or qualifies or retracts, as he sometimes does, as hope or interest or fear sways him, his testimony or confession is not to be summarily discarded, but to be judged of by confirming or opposing circumstances as well as by his character and the influences that may invest him. And it was such judgment the two lower courts exercised; it is such judgment in our turn that we are required to exercise. This record, indeed, shows that the character and characteristics of Gatmaitan, his mental and social inferiority to Valdez, made him facile to Valdez's solicitation and a purchasable agent for Valdez's purpose. And Valdez was shown, independently of Gatmaitan's testimony, to have had a purpose,-a fixed enmity to Yuson, engendered in a controversy over certain water rights. In gratification of it he carefully planned the crime, set its time and place, procured its weapon, gave the weapon to Gatmaitan, and hired a scout to observe the moments of Yuson and report his approach. The service was exactly performed, and upon his approach occurred the tragedy.
Yuson was shot in the back and instantly killed as he was entering his home; and the crowning horror of it was that it was done in the hearing and almost in the presence of his wife, even as she was speaking to him and moving to meet him.
Such is the outline of the crime. And crime it was. There is no dispute about that or the manner of execution. Valdez, as a witness in his own behalf, denied participation in it or precedent knowledge, and attempted to prove an alibi. His denial was not believed, his alibi decided not to have been established. It cannot be held, therefore, [244 U.S. 432, 442] that his conviction was not sustained by the evidence, and the sentence imposed upon him not justified, even though its doom be death.
Upon the other question the record shows this: Gatmaitan was a witness for the prosecution. He related that he was employed by Valdez to kill Yuson for 900 pesos, given him, Gatmaitan, for that purpose, and that he shot Yuson as Yuson was approaching his (Yuson's) house-Valdez assisting him, Gatmaitan. Indeed, Gatmaitan testified that Valdez ordered him to shoot, but that the gun would not go off, and Valdez showed him how to shoot-'and right at that moment the gun went off.' Gatmaitan further testified that he and Valdez located themselves 'in a fence near the staircase' of Yuson's house, and from that location fired the shot.
There was other testimony, as we have indicated, and distances of objects from one another were testified to.
At the close of the testimony the prosecuting attorney asked the court to visit 'the place of the occurrence in order to make there an inspection so that the court may judge the distances.' One of the counsel for the defense assented, saying: 'Yes: we do not object, so that the court may see.' Another counsel for the defense called for the 'motive' of the prosecution in asking 'for the ocular inspection.' It was replied that its object was to enable the court to obtain a correct idea of all the distances in connection with the assassination of the deceased, as well as, of the places where the witnesses for the prosecution found themselves and where they talked together. And further, 'We want that done in order that everything may be clear.' To which counsel for the defense replied that he had on occasions been present at ocular inspections and that testimony was taken which produced confusion, and, further: 'What I wish, with the consent of the prosecuting attorney, is that an inspection be made there, but that no testimony be taken [244 U.S. 432, 443] because it produces great confusion when one tries to examine witnesses at the place of the occurrence.'
The prosecuting attorney, however, thought it advisable not to dispense with such testimony or take from the court its discretion, 'so that when the court arrives there it may ask all unknown persons where the deceased fell, where the wad was found, where Gatmaitan was, and where Mateo Arcilla was.' All of which opposing counsel thought had been already proved.
The court expressed its willingness to make the inspection, as the result would be evidence for both parties after the defense had produced its rebuttal testimony, and upon the defense announcing that it had no rebuttal testimony, the case was closed.
The court made the inspection; Valdez was not present, but his counsel were. There is an opposition of affidavits submitted upon a motion for new trial. Those submitted by defendant (three of which were in almost exactly the same words) averred that the persons making them were present at the inspection by the court and saw the judge examine the various points at the scene of the crime and the point where Gatmaitan stood when he fired the murderous shot. That they also saw the widow of the deceased show the manner in which her husband fell,-she illustrating,-and that she also told the judge 'certain facts which happened at the time of the murder.' That they also saw Captain Crockett, of the constabulary, point out to the judge the places in the stairway and in the house where the shot had penetrated, and saw him walk with the judge and point out to him certain streets and houses connected with the case, and also saw the judge and such officer and the attorneys in the case and other persons examine other places.
One of the counsel for the defense also filed an affidavit. It averred that the judge went to the scene of the killing, accompanied by the attorneys for both sides, but that [244 U.S. 432, 444] neither Valdez nor his attorneys were consulted by the judge as to whether or not Valdez desired to accompany the court. That the widow of the deceased 'explained to the judge many occurrences which she claimed to have taken place on the night of the killing, what she claimed to have said to the deceased just prior to the killing and illustrated how and where the deceased had fallen, and discussed many other matters in connection with the case, during all which times she was crying and wringing her hands in grief.' That Captain Crockett was charged by at least one witness as being an official 'of a body which had forced and intimidated' the witness to give false testimony against Valdez. That Captain Crockett pointed out bullet marks to the judge, pointed out where the shot was fired as indicated by Gatmaitan, and made other statements to the judge that Gatmaitan had made to him 'as to other circumstances of the case.' That Captain Crockett walked through the streets with the judge and pointed out to him various objects which had been referred to during the trial, part of the time being alone with the judge. That Captain Crockett discussed distances between objects, giving his opinion of the same, and particularly the distance from the house of the deceased to the house of Valdez, and told the judge in that connection that he had measured such distance with a "speedometer' on his motorcycle.' That during the inspection the affiant made objections as attorney for Valdez as to the conduct of the widow and Crockett, but they were allowed to continue their conversations with the judge.
These affidavits were distinctly and circumstantially contradicted by affidavits, accompanied by photographs of the positions of the judge and the persons involved. One of the affidavits was by Captain Crockett and two of them were by the attorneys who prosecuted the case, both of whom were present at the inspection and in such relation to it as to know what occurred. [244 U.S. 432, 445] The supreme court, in passing upon the motion, said: 'A careful examination of these affidavits and the counteraffidavits filed by the appellee satisfies us that nothing more than inspection of the scene of the murder was made by the trial judge, and that no evidence whatever was taken on that occasion; and we are of opinion that, under all the circumstances, there was no violation of the constitutional right of the prisoner to be confronted with the witnesses. People v. Thorn, 156 N. Y. 286, 42 L.R.A. 368, 50 N. E. 947, and the cases cited in the extended note in the annotated report.'
Such being the record, we must assume that the judge, in his inspection of the scene of the homicide, was not improperly addressed by anyone, and, in the presence of counsel, did no more than visualize the testimony of the witnesses,-giving it a certain picturesqueness, it may be, but not adding to or changing it. It would be going a great way to say that the requirement of the Philippine Code, carrying the constitutional guaranty to an accused to 'meet the witnesses face to face,' was violated and could not be waived. And we think practically Valdez's presence was waived.
But, aside from any question of waiver, it would be pressing the right of an accused too far and Diaz v. United States, 223 U.S. 442 , 56 L. ed. 500, 32 Sup. Ct. Rep. 250, Ann. Cas. 1913C, 1138, beyond its principle to so hold. As well might it be said that an accused is entitled to be with the judge in his meditations, and that he could entertain no conception nor form any judgment without such personal presence.
The judgment should not be reversed upon a mere abstraction. It is difficult to divine how the inspection, even if the affidavits of the defendants should be taken at their face value, added to or took from the case as presented.
It follows that the judgment of the Supreme Court must be and it is affirmed. [244 U.S. 432, 446]
Mr. Justice Clarke, dissenting:
I greatly regret that I cannot concur in the opinion of the court in this case, and the fact that the decision must cost two men their lives impels me to state, as briefly as I may, my reasons for dissenting from it.
We have before us the record only in the case of Emilio Valdez.
Valdez is described in the opinion of the trial judge as 'a highly educated man and very prominent both on account of his social standing and his wealth;' and by the supreme court as 'a recognized leader of an active political faction and a member of one of the richest, most powerful and influential families in the community.'
He was convicted of lying concealed with another and of shooting, in the early evening, one Eusebio Yuson, also a man of prominence, as he was mounting an outside stairway to the second story of his village home. Pursuant to the practice of the Philippine Islands, the case was tried by a judge without the aid of a jury.
The guilt or innocence of Valdez turns upon the testimony of one Juan Gatmaitan, who was found by the trial court to be so 'densely ignorant a man, of so low an order of intelligence and so lacking in instruction, both mental and moral,' that upon finding him guilty of participating in the murder, the court, on this account, reduced his sentence from death to life imprisonment. The supreme court says of him that he 'is a convicted cattle thief;' that 'his testimony in his own behalf is wholly unworthy of credit,' and that in his own case he repudiated all of his testimony in the Valdez case and testified in a manner 'so incoherent, irrational, and incredible as to cast doubt on all that he said in his own behalf.'
To this we must add that this witness Gatmaitan first confessed to having murdered Yuson, without mentioning [244 U.S. 432, 447] Valdez. That afterwards, but two months before the trial of Valdez, he made affidavit that he and one Mateo Arcilla went to Valdez's house during the early evening of the day of the murder, that Valdez there gave them a shotgun in the village street, and that then the two, without Valdez, went and concealed themselves on the lot of Yuson, and when he came home 'I ( Gatmaitan) discharged both barrels of the shotgun at him at the same time and then ran to Valdez's house and delivered the shotgun to him.'
Next he gave testimony, such as we shall see, on the trial of Valdez, and eight days later made oath in prison that the local constables had tortured him for three weeks, not allowing him to sleep day or night, and thereby had forced him to confess that he and Valdez had committed the murder, when the truth was he did not know who killed Yuson.
Nine days after this, again under oath, he denied all torture and prosecution and says that his testimony on the trial of Valdez was true.
And finally the supreme court says that on his own trial he repudiated his testimony in the trial of Valdez, denied all knowledge of the crime, and attempted to establish an alibi for himself.
Such is the witness who tells the following amazing story on which Valdez is sentenced to death:
I can neither read nor write. I never talked with Valdez but three times in my life. The first time I was looking for sugar cane seed and he said to me that 'he wished to win my friendship,'-nothing else and we parted. The second time we met in Valdez's seed field and he offered me a business, which, according to his own statement, was an easy one. I asked him what kind of a business it was and he said to me . . . 'that I should kill Eusebio Yuson and that he would pay me 900 pesos ($450).' I told him I could not please him because I was very busy of my work [244 U.S. 432, 448] and no one could release me in said work. And he told me to say nothing about it to anyone and thus we parted. The third time I met Valdez he came to my hut in my sugar cane fields about five o'clock of a Sunday evening ( the evening of the murder) and he invited me to return to town and I rode with him in his calesa (carriage) to his home. During this drive of about an hour he said nothing to me. When we arrived at his house he left me in the street and went into the house. When the bell struck the time of evening prayer as he did not come down from the house I thought that he was praying and when he did come down from the house he said nothing to me but handed me a shotgun.
Q. And what did you do when you received the gun?
A. He still invited me to go to Loaon.
Q. What did he do?
A. He followed me.
Q. Where did you go?
A. To the house of Lieutenant Eusebio Yuson.
He says that on the way to Yuson's house he and Valdez stopped at a store and one Figueroa came and told them that Yuson was already there, and they then approached Yuson's house and located themselves in the fence near the staircase (outside the house, leading to the second story), and when Yuson arrived Valdez ordered me to shoot.
Q. And what did you do?
A. I tried to shoot, but the gun would not go off.
Q. And then--
A. He approached me and said, 'Son of a whore, he was able to go up and you won't shoot,' and he showed me how to shoot and right at that moment the gun went off.
On cross-examination he says he pulled the two triggers and that the gun would not go off, and that then Valdez showed him how to shoot. 'I was holding the shotgun this way (indicating) and he was showing me how to shoot, [244 U.S. 432, 449] SAYING, 'this way,' and without more ado the shot came out, the shot gun fell and I was frightened and ran away from the place and I know nothing more.' He says he had never handled firearms before, and did not know how to shoot a gun, and that he did not tell Valdez that he did not know how to shoot. The shot thus fired was the one fatal to Yuson.
I shall not go into the testimony of the corroborating witnesses for the prosecution, Mateo Arcilla, who is described by the supreme court as 'a convicted wife murderer, sentenced to life imprisonment for that crime since he appeared as a witness at the trial of Valdez,' and Figueroa, who, with Gatmaitan and Arcilla, the trial judge says pleaded guilty, before a justice of the peace, to murdering Yuson, without implicating Valdez.
The only motive suggested on the part of Valdez for murdering Yuson is a difference between him or his mother (it is not clear which) and Yuson about some boundary and water rights, which had been amicably settled four years before the murder, and an indefinite business rivalry, which is only remotely alluded to by the widow of the deceased.
A careful reading of this entire record convinces me, and the opinions of the lower courts throughout proceed upon the assumption, that the conviction of Valdez could not be thought of except this story of Gatmaintan, which I have thus detailed from the record, is believed to be true. Under the authority of the decisions of this court in Wiborg v. United States, 163 U.S. 632, 658 , 41 S. L. ed. 289, 298, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1127, 1197; Clyatt v. United States, 197 U.S. 207 , 49 L. ed. 726, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 429; and in Diaz v. United States, 223 U.S. 454 , 56 L. ed. 505, 32 Sup. Ct. Rep. 250, Ann. Cas. 1913C, 1138, I have thus examined this record for the purpose of determining whether there is any substantial evidence to be found in it to warrant the conviction of the defendant, and my conclusion is that there is no such evidence, because, after making full allowance for differences of habit, of life, and of character of the persons in- [244 U.S. 432, 450] volved and of the witnesses, I cannot conceive it possible that a man such as Valdez is described to be, even if he desired the death of an enemy or a rival (as to which there is no evidence), would bribe to shoot him, an entire stranger of the most ignorant type obtainable, who had never used firearms; should promise him money to commit the murder; should deliberately hand him, in the early evening, in a village street, the gun with which to shoot the victim; and then should go with the murderer to the scene and participate in the assassination by pulling the trigger which fired the fatal shot.
Comment would be superfluous. The mere narration of the story makes it impossible for me to consent to making it the legal basis for depriving a man of his life, for the testimony of Gatmaitan is not merely mistaken testimony, due to faulty recollection or statement, but one of his series of stories is necessarily, consciously, and corruptly false, and therefore the other should not be relied upon; especially not in a capital case. It is not uncommon for ignorant and corrupt men to falsely charge others with doing what they imagine that they themselves, in their narrow minds and experience, would have done under the circumstances of a given case, and the surest check, often the only check, on such perjury, is to recognize the impossibility that men of larger instruction and resources and experience could have been guilty of such conduct. It is, of course, possible that Valdez committed or inspired this crime, but it is impossible to believe that he would have committed it in the crude, certain to be detected, manner described by Gatmaitan.
This conclusion is arrived at putting wholly aside the defense of the accused, in which he took the witness stand, and, so far as the record shows, sustained himself through a searching cross-examination, in a categorical denial of the, to me, utterly incredible stories of the prosecuting witnesses. [244 U.S. 432, 451] But even if the evidence in the case were deemed by me credible, I still should conclude that the judgment should be reversed for the purely legal reason which I shall now state.
When the state closed its evidence in rebuttal, the prosecuting attorney requested the court (there was no jury) to view the scene of the murder. To this counsel for the accused assented, but with the request that 'no testimony be taken because it produced great confusion when trying to examine witnesses at the place of the occurrence.' To this request the prosecuting attorney replied: 'What Mr. Southworth says would be very advisable, but I believe it would be very advisable also not to dispense with the task in which the court may exercise its discretion, so that when said court arrives there it may ask of unknown persons where the deceased fell, where the wad was found, where Gatmaitan was, and where Mateo Arcilla was.'
Then this follows:
The court: The court has no objection to making that inspection after the defense has produced its rebuttal evidence, not showing in the record the result of said inspection.
Mr. Southworth: We have no rebuttal evidence.
The court: So that we may close the case?
Mr. Chicote: Yes, sir.
The court: Good; to-morrow you may present your arguments. The session of the court is closed.
The record further shows that the judge visited the scene of the murder, that Valdez was confined in prison several miles away at the time of the visit, and that he was neither required nor invited to be present at the view.
This visit to the scene by the judge without the presence of the accused is assigned as one of the reasons why a new trial should be granted, on the ground that such action violated 5 of the Act of Congress of July 1st, 1902 [32 Stat. at L. 692, chap. 1369], [244 U.S. 432, 452] known as the 'Philippine bill,' and also article 6 of the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, providing that the accused 'shall enjoy the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.'
What was done by the judge at this view is the subject of much dispute and conflict of statement made in affidavits on motion for a new trial. A typical statement in the interest of the accused of what occurred is made by his attorney, who is described in the record as a reputable member of the bar, who stated that the widow of the deceased explained to the judge what she claimed had taken place on the night of the murder, pointing out where the deceased had fallen, and discussing many other matters in connection with the case, she weeping and wringing her hands all of the time that such interview was in progress, and that one Crockett, a constable, was active in indicating to the court various points and circumstances connected with the murder, all of this against objections made by counsel as to the conduct of the widow and Crockett.
A typical affidavit introduced by the state was by the private prosecutor Buencamino, who stated that he was present at the view, that the judge 'neither received any evidence nor admitted any testimony referring to the case then being prosecuted against Valdez, and, according to my best recollection, I did not see the widow crying, but I saw her at a place distant from the judge. I also state that Captain Crockett did not give any evidence before the judge.'
An assistant attorney for the government made affidavit that at no time did he see the widow crying or talking to the judge, or illustrating how her husband had fallen.
However, a photograph of the scene at the time of the view indicates that it must have been a very unusual local event, for a large crowd was present, and in this photograph the widow is shown in a position which must have been [244 U.S. 432, 453] very close to the judge, and it is very significant that there is no statement from the judge as to just what he did and as to what occurred at the view.
It has long been familiar, textbook, law, that a viewing of the premises where the crime is alleged to have been committed is part of the trial. Thus, in Wharton's Criminal Law, 9th ed. vol. 3, 707, it is said: 'The visit (of the jury) must be made in the presence of the accused, who is entitled to have all the evidence received by the jury taken in his presence.' And in Enc. of Pl. & Pr. vol. 22, p. 1059, it is said: 'In criminal causes the accused is entitled to be present if the jury is sent to view the locus of the crime, as a view in the absence of the accused would violate his constitutional right to appear in person and be confronted with the witnesses against him.'
But the law upon this subject has been recently summed up by this court (Diaz v. United States, 223 U.S. 442, 454 , 56 S. L. ed. 500, 505, 32 Sup. Ct. Rep. 250, Ann. Cas. 1913C, 1138) in an admirable statement, which, in my judgment, rules the case before us, and is as follows:
It is difficult to imagine a case which would show the value of this rule more strongly than the case we are considering. If the description of what occurred as given by counsel for the defendant is even approximately true, it is not improbable that even the most stoical judge might have been influenced by it, and the presence of the defendant might very well have had a counterbalancing [244 U.S. 432, 455] influence, and, in addition to this, he was entitled to the benefit of any suggestion which he might have been able to make through his counsel.
It is very clear to my mind that Diaz v. United States, supra, in principle rules this case, and that the viewing of the scene of the murder by the judge without the presence of the accused requires that it be reversed and a new trial granted.
That the conclusion I have reached in this case is not idiosyncratic, or the result of an undue regard for a man's life when it is adequately proved to have been forfeited under the law, is, I think, sufficiently shown by the fact that two of the members of the supreme court of the Philippine Islands expressed their estimate of the case made against Valdez by this record in these terms:
Moreland, J., dissenting: 'I dissent. I think that the least the accused is entitled to, under the facts and the law, is a new trial. I believe, however, that he is entitled to an acquittal upon the facts as presented.' And
Grant T. Trent, J.: 'I dissent on the ground that the prosecution has not proved the guilt of the appellants of the crime of which they were convicted.'
For the reasons thus stated, I am of opinion that this record does not show any credible testimony supporting the judgment, that, upon the authorities cited, it rests upon error of law gravely prejudicial to the accused, and that it therefore should be reversed and a new trial granted.
I am authorized to say that the CHIEF JUSTICE concurs in this opinion.