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Law School Case Brief

Reynolds v. United States - 98 U.S. 145 (1878)


A grand jury impaneled before a district court of the Utah Territory limits the number of grand jurors to fifteen. Comp. Laws Utah, 1876, 357.

The finding of the court upon an issue of mixed fact and law, ought not to be set aside by a reviewing court, unless the error is manifest. No less stringent rules should be applied by the reviewing court in such a case than those which govern in the consideration of motions for new trial because the verdict is against the evidence. It must be made clearly to appear that upon the evidence the court ought to have found the juror had formed such an opinion that he could not in law be deemed impartial. The case must be one in which it is manifest the law left nothing to the conscience or discretion of the court.

If a witness is kept away by the adverse party, his testimony, taken on a former trial between the same parties upon the same issues, may be given in evidence.


Defendant George Reynolds married his second wife while his first wife was still living. He was convicted of bigamy in the District Court for the Third Judicial District of the Territory of Utah. Prior to trial, jurors of the court had acknowledged forming some opinion on the case  and indicated an ability to view the evidence impartially. The prosecution also admitted into evidence testimony of the second wife given at a different trial charging defendant with bigamy. Reynolds appealed his conviction.


Did the jurors wrongfully convict Reynolds of the crime of bigamy?




The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Reynolds’ conviction for bigamy. According to the Court, the 15 person grand jury that indicted Reynolds was proper because the statute governing territorial courts was applicable. The Court found the question of whether a juror was impartial to be an issue of fact that was reversible only for clear error. The Court determined that Reynolds had not met his burden of showing a juror's actual opinion raising the presumption of partiality. The Court decided that the introduction of the second wife's former testimony was proper because she was made unavailable by Reynolds.

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