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Law School Case Brief

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


The U.S. Constitution grants an accused the privilege of being confronted with the witnesses against him; but if he voluntarily keeps the witnesses away, he cannot insist on his privilege. If, therefore, when absent by his procurement, their evidence is supplied in some lawful way, he is in no condition to assert that his constitutional rights have been violated. 


Defendant married a second wife while his first wife was still living. Defendant was convicted of bigamy at a trial where questioned jurors had acknowledged forming some opinion on the case prior to trial, but indicated an ability to view the evidence impartially. Further, the prosecution admitted into evidence testimony of the second wife given at a different trial charging defendant with bigamy. The defendant appealed his conviction.


Was defendant's conviction for bigamy proper?




Affirming defendant's conviction for bigamy, the United States Supreme 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 defendant had not met his burden of showing a juror's actual opinion raising the presumption of partiality and thus, the jurors were not shown to be partial. Lastly, the Court decided that the introduction of the second wife's former testimony was proper because she was made unavailable by defendant.

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