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Law School Case Brief

Hicks v. United States - 150 U.S. 442, 14 S. Ct. 144 (1893)

Rule:

Mere presence at the scene of a murder is not enough implicate someone as an accomplice, if there is no evidence that they had agreed to assist in the commission of the crime.

Facts:

Defendant appealed his conviction of accessory to murder. The lower court found that his presence at the crime scene coupled with facts showing he may have aided or abetted the commission of the crime was enough to convict him. Defendant appealed judgment and the court reversed the judgment, set aside the verdict, awarded a new trial because the lower court's instructions to the jury were erroneous.

Issue:

Did the lower court err in failing to instruct the jury to consider whether defendant's words were intended to encourage the commission of the crime?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court found the lower court erred in failing to instruct the jury to consider whether defendant's words were intended to encourage the commission of the crime. The court further found defendant's presence alone would convict him if the prosecution proved there was a conspiracy between the defendant and the principal. The lower court's instruction that the testimony of witnesses standing one hundred yards away was truthful while the defendant's was false because he had an interest in the case improperly influenced the jury. The court found the lower court should have submitted defendant's explanation of his role to the jury for their careful consideration.

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