Amendments V and VI

Document 45

United States v. Gooding

12 Wheat. 460 1827

Mr. Justice Story. . . . The first instruction prayed puts the point, whether the burden of proof of the offences charged in the indictment did not rest upon the United States. Without question, it does, in all cases where a party stands charged with an offence, unless a different provision is made by some statute; for the general rule of our jurisprudence is, that the party accused need not establish his innocence; but it is for the government itself to prove his guilt, before it is entitled to a verdict or conviction. This question has been abandoned at the argument here, and is too plain for controversy, since there is no statutable provision altering the general principle in this particular.

. . . . .

It remains only to consider the point, whether these objections to the sufficiency of the indictment could be properly taken at this stage of the proceedings. Undoubtedly, according to the regular course of practice, objections to the form and sufficiency of an indictment ought to be discussed, upon a motion to quash the indictment, which may be granted or refused in the discretion of the court, or upon demurrer to the indictment, or upon a motion in arrest of judgment, which are matters of right. The defendant has no right to insist that such objections should be discussed or decided, during the trial of the facts by the jury. It would be very inconvenient and embarrassing, to allow a discussion of such topics, during the progress of the cause before the jury, and introduce much confusion into the administration of public justice. But, we think, it is not wholly incompetent for the court to entertain such questions, during the trial, in the exercise of a sound discretion. It should, however, be rarely done, and only under circumstances of an extraordinary nature. The circuit court, in the present case, did allow the introduction and discussion of these questions, during the trial, and were divided upon the propriety of the practice. We can only certify, that the court possessed the authority, but that it ought not to be exercised except on very urgent occasions. A certificate will be sent to the circuit court of the district of Maryland, according to this opinion.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 5, Amendments V and VI, Document 45
The University of Chicago Press

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