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Weems v United States

A paramount governmental authority may make use of subordinate governmental instruments without the creation of a distinct legal entity, as is the case of the United States and the United States Government of the Philippine Islands.

Under the Philippine Criminal Code of Procedure, a public offense need not necessarily be described in the information in exact words of the statute, but only in ordinary and concise language, so as to enable a person of common understanding to understand the charge and the court to pronounce judgment.

A charge describing the accused as a public official of the United States Government of the Philippine Islands and his offense as falsifying a public and official document in this case held sufficient.Carrington v. United States,208 U. S. 1, distinguished.

The provision in Rule 35 that this court may, at its option, notice a plain error not assigned is not a rigid rule controlled by precedent, but confers a discretion exercisable at any time, regardless of what may have been done at other times; the court has less reluctance to disregard prior examples in criminal, than in civil, cases, and will act under the Rule when rights constitutional in nature or secured under a bill of rights are asserted.

Although not raised in the courts below, this court will, under Rule 35, consider an assignment of error made for the first time in this court that a sentence is cruel and unusual within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution or of the similar provision in the Philippine bill of rights.

In interpreting the Eighth Amendment, it will be regarded as a precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to the offense.

A provision of the Philippine bill of rights taken from the Constitution of the United States must have the same meaning, and so held that the provision prohibiting cruel and unusual punishments must be interpreted as the Eighth Amendment has been.

What constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment has not been exactly defined, and no case as heretofore occurred in this court calling for an exhaustive definition.

While legislation, both statutory and constitutional, is enacted to remedy existing evils, its general language is not necessarily so confined, and it may be capable of wider application than to the mischief giving it birth.

The Eighth Amendment is progressive, and does not prohibit merely the cruel and unusual punishments known in 1689 and 1787, but may acquire wider meaning as public opinion becomes enlightened by humane justice, and a similar provision in the Philippine bill of rights applies to long-continued imprisonment with accessories disproportionate to the offense.

While the judiciary may not oppose its power to that of the legislature in defining crimes and their punishment as to expediency, it is the duty of the judiciary to determine whether the legislature has contravened a constitutional prohibition and in that respect, and, for that purpose, the power of the judiciary is superior to that of the legislature.

It is within the power of this court to declare a statute of the Penal Code defining a crime and fixing its punishment void as violative of the provision in the Philippine bill of rights prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

In determining whether a punishment is cruel and unusual as fixed by the Philippine Commission, this court will consider the punishment of the same or similar crimes in other parts of the United States, as exhibiting the difference between power unrestrained and that exercised under the spirit of constitutional limitations formed to establish justice.

Where the statute unites all the penalties, the court cannot separate them, even if separable, unless it is clear that the union was not made imperative by the legislature; and, in this case, held that the penalties ofcadena temporal,principal and accessories, under art. 56 of the Penal Code of the Philippine Islands, are not independent of each other.

Where the minimum sentence which the court might impose is cruel and unusual within the prohibition of a bill of rights, the fault is in the law, and not in the sentence, and if there is no other law under which sentence can be imposed, it is the duty of the court to declare the law void.

Where sentence cannot be imposed under any law except that declared unconstitutional or void, the case cannot be remanded for new sentence, but the judgment must be reversed with directions to dismiss the proceedings.

In this case, the court declared 56 of the Penal Code of the Philippine

Islands, and a sentence pronounced thereunder, void as violating the provision in the Philippine bill of rights contained in 5 of the act of July 1, 1902, c. 1369, 32 Stat. 691, against the imposition of excessive fines and the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment, insofar as being prescribed for an offense by an officer of the Government of making false entries in public records as to payments of 616 pesos, the punishment being a fine of 4,000 pesos andcadena temporalof over twelve years with accessories, such accessories including the carrying of chains, deprivation of civil rights during imprisonment, and thereafter perpetual disqualification to enjoy political rights, hold office, etc., and subjection besides to surveillance.

The history of the adoption of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and cases involving constitutional prohibitions against excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment reviewed and discussed in the opinion of the court and the dissenting opinion.

The facts, which involve the legality of 56 of the Penal Code of the Philippine Islands, and a sentence thereunder, under the guarantees against cruel and unusual punishments of the bill of rights of the Philippine Islands as expressed in the act of July 1, 1902, are stated in the opinion.

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS

A paramount governmental authority may make use of subordinate governmental instruments without the creation of a distinct legal entity, as is the case of the United States and the United States Government of the Philippine Islands.

Under the Philippine Criminal Code of Procedure, a public offense need not necessarily be described in the information in exact words of the statute, but only in ordinary and concise language, so as to enable a person of common understanding to understand the charge and the court to pronounce judgment.

A charge describing the accused as a public official of the United States Government of the Philippine Islands and his offense as falsifying a public and official document in this case held sufficient.Carrington v. United States,208 U. S. 1, distinguished.

The provision in Rule 35 that this court may, at its option, notice a plain error not assigned is not a rigid rule controlled by precedent, but confers a discretion exercisable at any time, regardless of what may have been done at other times; the court has less reluctance to disregard prior examples in criminal, than in civil, cases, and will act under the Rule when rights constitutional in nature or secured under a bill of rights are asserted.

Although not raised in the courts below, this court will, under Rule 35, consider an assignment of error made for the first time in this court that a sentence is cruel and unusual within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution or of the similar provision in the Philippine bill of rights.

In interpreting the Eighth Amendment, it will be regarded as a precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to the offense.

A provision of the Philippine bill of rights taken from the Constitution of the United States must have the same meaning, and so held that the provision prohibiting cruel and unusual punishments must be interpreted as the Eighth Amendment has been.

What constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment has not been exactly defined, and no case as heretofore occurred in this court calling for an exhaustive definition.

While legislation, both statutory and constitutional, is enacted to remedy existing evils, its general language is not necessarily so confined, and it may be capable of wider application than to the mischief giving it birth.

The Eighth Amendment is progressive, and does not prohibit merely the cruel and unusual punishments known in 1689 and 1787, but may acquire wider meaning as public opinion becomes enlightened by humane justice, and a similar provision in the Philippine bill of rights applies to long-continued imprisonment with accessories disproportionate to the offense.

While the judiciary may not oppose its power to that of the legislature in defining crimes and their punishment as to expediency, it is the duty of the judiciary to determine whether the legislature has contravened a constitutional prohibition and in that respect, and, for that purpose, the power of the judiciary is superior to that of the legislature.

It is within the power of this court to declare a statute of the Penal Code defining a crime and fixing its punishment void as violative of the provision in the Philippine bill of rights prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

In determining whether a punishment is cruel and unusual as fixed by the Philippine Commission, this court will consider the punishment of the same or similar crimes in other parts of the United States, as exhibiting the difference between power unrestrained and that exercised under the spirit of constitutional limitations formed to establish justice.

Where the statute unites all the penalties, the court cannot separate them, even if separable, unless it is clear that the union was not made imperative by the legislature; and, in this case, held that the penalties ofcadena temporal,principal and accessories, under art. 56 of the Penal Code of the Philippine Islands, are not independent of each other.

Where the minimum sentence which the court might impose is cruel and unusual within the prohibition of a bill of rights, the fault is in the law, and not in the sentence, and if there is no other law under which sentence can be imposed, it is the duty of the court to declare the law void.

Where sentence cannot be imposed under any law except that declared unconstitutional or void, the case cannot be remanded for new sentence, but the judgment must be reversed with directions to dismiss the proceedings.

In this case, the court declared 56 of the Penal Code of the Philippine

Islands, and a sentence pronounced thereunder, void as violating the provision in the Philippine bill of rights contained in 5 of the act of July 1, 1902, c. 1369, 32 Stat. 691, against the imposition of excessive fines and the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment, insofar as being prescribed for an offense by an officer of the Government of making false entries in public records as to payments of 616 pesos, the punishment being a fine of 4,000 pesos andcadena temporalof over twelve years with accessories, such accessories including the carrying of chains, deprivation of civil rights during imprisonment, and thereafter perpetual disqualification to enjoy political rights, hold office, etc., and subjection besides to surveillance.

The history of the adoption of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and cases involving constitutional prohibitions against excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment reviewed and discussed in the opinion of the court and the dissenting opinion.

The facts, which involve the legality of 56 of the Penal Code of the Philippine Islands, and a sentence thereunder, under the guarantees against cruel and unusual punishments of the bill of rights of the Philippine Islands as expressed in the act of July 1, 1902, are stated in the opinion.

MR. JUSTICE McKENNA delivered the opinion of the court.*

This writ of error brings up for review the judgment of the supreme court of the Philippine Islands, affirming the conviction of plaintiff in error for falsifying a public and official document.

In the complaint, by which the prosecution was begun, it was charged that the plaintiff in error,

a duly appointed, qualified, and acting disbursing officer of the Bureau of Coast Guard and Transportation of the United States Government of the Philippine Islands,

corruptly, and with intent then and there to deceive and defraud the United States Government of the Philippine Islands and its officials, falsify a public and official document, namely, a cash book of the captain of the port of Manilla, Philippine Islands, and the Bureau of Coast Guard and Transportation of the United States Government of the Philippine Islands,

kept by him as disbursing officer of that bureau. The falsification, which is alleged with much particularity, was committed by entering as paid out, as wages of employees of the lighthouse service

of the United States Government of the Philippine Islands, at the Capul Light House, of 208 pesos, and for like service at the Matabriga Light House of 408 pesos, Philippine currency. A demurrer was filed to the complaint, which was overruled.

He was convicted, and the following sentence was imposed upon him:

To the penalty of fifteen years of cadena, together with the accessories of section 56 of the Penal Code, and to pay a fine of 4,000 pesetas, but not to serve imprisonment as a subsidiary punishment in case of his insolvency, on account of the nature of the main penalty, and to pay the costs of this cause.

The judgment and sentence were affirmed by the supreme court of the islands.

It is conceded by plaintiff in error that some of the questions presented to the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands cannot be raised in this court, as the record does not contain the evidence. Indeed, plaintiff in error confines his discussion to one point raised in the court below and to three other questions, which, though not brought to the attention of the Supreme Court of the islands, and not included in the assignment of errors, are of such importance, it is said, that this court will consider them under the right reserved in Rule 35.*

These questions, which are assigned as error on the argument here, are as follows:

1. The court below erred in overruling the demurrer to the complaint, this assignment being based upon the fact that, in the complaint, the plaintiff in error is described as the disbursing officer of the Bureau of Coast Guard and Transportation of the United States Government of the Philippine Islands, and the cash book referred to in the complaint is described as a book of the captain of the port of Manila, Philippine Islands, whereas there is no such body politic as the United States government of the Philippine Islands.

2. The record does not disclose that the plaintiff in error was arraigned, or that he pleaded to the complaint after his demurrer was overruled and he was ordered to plead to the complaint.

3. The record does not show that the plaintiff in error was present when he was tried, or, indeed, that he was present in court at any time.

4. The punishment of fifteen years imprisonment was a cruel and unusual punishment, and, to the extent of the sentence, the judgment below should be reversed on this ground.

The second assignment of error was based upon a misapprehension of the fact, and has been abandoned.

The argument to support the first assignment of error is based upon certain acts of Congress and certain acts of the Philippine Commission in which the government of the United States and the government of the Islands are distinguished.

And it is urged that, in one of the acts ( 3396 of the acts of the commission) it is recognized that there may be allegiance to or treason against both or either of them, and ( 3397) that there may be rebellion or insurrection against the authority of either, and ( 3398) that there may be a conspiracy to overthrow either, or to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of either. Other sections are cited in which it is contended that the insular government is spoken of as an entity, and distinguished from that of the United States. Section 1366, which defines the duty of the attorney general, it is pointed out, especially distinguishes between causes, civil or criminal, to which the United States or any officer thereof in his official capacity is a party, and causes, civil or criminal, to which the government of the Philippine Islands or any officer thereof in his official capacity is a party. And, still more decisively, it is urged, by subdivision C of 1366, in which it is recognized that the cause of action may be for money, and that the judgment may be for money belonging to the government of the United States and that of the Philippine Islands or some other province. It is therefore contended that the Government of the United States and that of the Philippine Islands are distinct legal entities, and that there may be civil obligations to one and not to the other; that there may be governmental liability to the one and not to the other, and that proceedings, civil or criminal, against either must recognize the distinction to be sufficient to justify a judgment. To apply these principles, let us see what the information charges. It describes Weems, plaintiff in error, as

a public official of the United States Government of the Philippine Islands, to-wit, a duly appointed and qualified acting disbursing official of the Bureau of Coast Guard and Transportation of the United States Government of the Philippine Islands,

and it is charged that, by taking advantage of his official position, with intent to deceive and defraud the United States government of the Phillipine Islands, he falsified a public and official document. In the same manner, the government

is designated throughout the information. It is contended that there is no such body politic as theUnited States Government of the Philippine Islands, and it is urged that the objection does not relate to a matter of form. It is as substantial, it is said, as the point involved inCarrington v. United States,208 U. S. 1, where a military officer of the United States was prosecuted as a civil officer of the government of the Philippines. His conviction was reversed, this court holding that, as a soldier, he was not an official of the Philippines, but of the United States.

It is true that the distinctions raised are expressed in the statutes, and necessarily so. It would be difficult otherwise to provide for government where there is a paramount authority making use of subordinate instrumentalities. We have examples in the states of the Union and their lesser municipal divisions, and rights may flow from and to such lesser divisions. And the distinction in the Philippine statutes means no more than that, and, conforming to that, a distinction is clearly made in the information. Weems official position is described as Disbursing Officer of the Bureau of Coast Guard and Transportation of the United States Government of the Philippine Islands. There is no real uncertainty in this description, and whatever technical nicety of discrimination might have been insisted on at one time cannot now be, in view of the provisions of the Philippine Criminal Code of Procedure, which requires a public offense to be described in ordinary and concise language, not necessarily in the words of the statute,

but in such form as to enable a person of common understanding to know what is intended, and the court to pronounce judgment according to the right.

no information or complaint is insufficient, nor can the trial, judgment, or other proceeding be affected, by reason of a defect in matter of form which does not tend to prejudice a substantial right of the defendant upon the merits.

Carrington v. United States,208 U. S. 1, is not in point. In

that case it was attempted to hold Carrington guilty of an offense as a civil officer for what he had done as a military officer. As he was the latter, he had not committed any offense under the statute. The first assignment of error is therefore not sustained.

It is admitted, as we have seen, that the questions presented by the third and fourth assignments of error were not made in the courts below, but a consideration of them is invoked under rule 35, which provides that this court, at its option, may notice a plain error not assigned.

It is objected on the other side thatParaiso v. United States,207 U. S. 368, stands in the way. But the rule is not altogether controlled by precedent. It confers a discretion that may be exercised at any time, no matter what may have been done at some other time. It is true we declined to exercise it inParaiso v. United States,but we exercised it inWiborg v. United States,163 U. S. 632,163 U. S. 658;Clyatt v. United States,197 U. S. 207,197 U. S. 221, andCrawford v. United States,212 U. S. 183. It may be said, however, thatParaiso v. United Statesis more directly applicable, as it was concerned with the same kind of a crime as that in the case at bar, and that it was contended there, as here, that the amount of fine and imprisonment imposed inflicted a cruel and unusual punishment. It may be that we were not sufficiently impressed with the importance of those contentions, or saw in the circumstances of the case no reason to exercise our right of review under Rule 35. As we have already said, the rule is not a rigid one, and we have less reluctance to disregard prior examples in criminal cases than in civil cases, and less reluctance to act under it when rights are asserted which are of such high character as to find expression and sanction in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. And such rights are asserted in this case.

a punishment of fifteen years imprisonment was a cruel and unusual punishment, and, to the extent of the sentence, the judgment below should be reversed on this ground.

have seen, for the falsification of a public and official document, by entering therein, as paid out, the sums of 208 and 408 pesos, respectively, as wages to certain employees of the lighthouse service. In other words, in entering upon his cash book those sums as having been paid out when they were not paid out, and the truth, to use the language of the statue, was thereby perverted in the narration of facts.

A false entry is all that is necessary to constitute the offense. Whether an offender against the statute injures anyone by his act, or intended to injure anyone, is not material, the trial court held. The court said:

It is not necessary that there be any fraud, nor even the desire to defraud, nor intention of personal gain on the part of the person committing it, that a falsification of a public document be punishable; it is sufficient that the one who committed it had the intention to pervert the truth and to falsify the document, and that by it damage might result to a third party.

The court further, in the definition of the nature of the offense and the purpose of the law, said: In public documents, the law takes into consideration not only private interests, but also the interests of the community; and it is its endeavor (and for this, a decision of the Supreme Court of Spain, delivered in 1873, was quoted)

to protect the interest of society by the most strict faithfulness on the part of a public official in the administration of the office intrusted to him,

and thereby fulfill the responsibility of the state to the community for the official or public documents under the safeguard of the state. And this was attempted to be secured through the law in controversy. It is found in 1 of chapter 4 of the Penal Code of Spain. The caption of the section is, Falsification of Official and Commercial Documents and Telegraphic Despatches. Article 300 provides as follows:

The penalties ofcadena temporaland a fine of from 1,250 to 12,500 pesetas shall be imposed on a public official who, taking advantage of his authority, shall commit a falsification. . . . by perverting the truth in the narration of facts. . . .

By other provisions of the Code, we find that there are only

two degrees of punishment higher in scale thancadena temporal,-- death, andcadena perpetua.The punishment ofcadena temporalis from twelve years and one day to twenty years (Arts. 28 and 96), which shall be served in certain penal institutions. And it is provided that

those sentenced tocadena temporalandcadena perpetuashall labor for the benefit of the state. They shall always carry a chain at the ankle, hanging from the wrists; they shall be employed at hard and painful labor, and shall receive no assistance whatsoever from without the institution.

Arts. 105, 106. There are, besides, certain accessory penalties imposed, which are defined to be (1) civil interdiction; (2) perpetual absolute disqualification; (3) subjection to surveillance during life. These penalties are defined as follows:

Art. 42. Civil interdiction shall deprive the person punished, as long as he suffers it, of the rights of parental authority, guardianship of person or property, participation in the family council, marital authority, and the right to dispose of his own property by actsinter vivos.Those cases are excepted in which the laws explicitly limit its effects.

Art. 43. Subjection to the surveillance of the authorities imposes the following obligations on the persons punished:

1. That of fixing his domicil and giving notice thereof to the authority immediately in charge of his surveillance, not being allowed to change it without the knowledge and permission of said authority, in writing.

2. To observe the rules of inspection prescribed.

3. To adopt some trade, art, industry, or profession should he not have known means of subsistence of his own.

Whenever a person punished is placed under the surveillance of the authorities, notice thereof shall be given to the government and to the governor general.

The penalty of perpetual absolute disqualification is the deprivation of office, even though it be held by popular election, the deprivation of the right to vote or to be elected to

public office, the disqualification to acquire honors, etc., and the loss of retirement pay, etc.

These provisions are attacked as infringing that provision of the Bill of Rights of the islands which forbids the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. It must be confessed that they, and the sentence in this case, excite wonder in minds accustomed to a more considerate adaptation of punishment to the degree of crime. In a sense, the law in controversy seems to be independent of degrees. One may be an offender against it, as we have seen, though he gain nothing and injure nobody. It has, however, some human indulgence -- it is not exactly Draconian in uniformity. Though it starts with a severe penalty, between that and the maximum penalty, it yields something to extenuating circumstances. Indeed, by Article 96 of the Penal Code, the penalty is declared to be divisible, and the legal term of its duration is understood as distributed into three parts, forming the three degrees -- that is, the minimum, medium, and maximum -- being, respectively, twelve years and one day to fourteen years and eight months; from fourteen years, eight months, and one day to seventeen years and four months; from seventeen years, four months, and one day to twenty years. The law therefore allows a range from twelve years and a day to twenty years, and the government, in its brief, ventures to say that the sentence of fifteen years is well within the law. But the sentence is attacked, as well as the law, and what it is to be well within the law a few words will exhibit. The minimum term of imprisonment is twelve years, and that, therefore, must be imposed for perverting the truth in a single item of a public record, though there be no one injured, though there be no fraud or purpose of it, no gain or desire of it. Twenty years is the maximum imprisonment, and that only can be imposed for the perversion of truth in every item of an officers accounts, whatever be the time covered and whatever fraud it conceals or tends to conceal. Between these two possible sentences, which seem to have no adaptable relation, or rather,

in the difference of eight years for the lowest possible offense and the highest possible, the courts below selected three years to add to the minimum of twelve years and a day for the falsification of two items of expenditure, amounting to the sums of 408 and 204 pesos. And the fine and accessories must be brought into view. The fine was 4,000 pesetas -- an excess also over the minimum. The accessories, we have already defined. We can now give graphic description of Weems sentence and of the law under which it was imposed. Let us confine it to the minimum degree of the law, for it is with the law that we are most concerned. Its minimum degree is confinement in a penal institution for twelve years and one day, a chain at the ankle and wrist of the offender, hard and painful labor, no assistance from friend or relative, no marital authority or parental rights or rights of property, no participation even in the family council. These parts of his penalty endure for the term of imprisonment. From other parts, there is no intermission. His prison bars and chains are removed, it is tru.

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