United States v. John Fries

9 F. Cas. 924 (1800)

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United States v. John Fries

United States Circuit Court for the District of Pennsylvania
9 F. Cas. 924 (1800)

Facts

John Fries (defendant) was charged with treason after leading an insurrection to avoid a house tax. Fries’s group managed to avoid paying the taxes for a time but, perhaps more importantly from a criminal context, liberated a group of prisoners from the custody of a federal marshal. Fries had previously been tried and found guilty, but one of the jurors subsequently admitted to having been prejudiced against Fries before the juror’s deliberation. Accordingly, Fries was granted a second trial. The conduct of the second trial was very unusual. Justice Chase felt that Fries’s first trial had gone on too long and consisted of too much proof of English treason cases, which made Fries look sympathetic by comparison, such as a case in which the king had killed a yeoman’s stag, only for the yeoman to state that the yeoman wished the horns of the stag had been driven into the king’s belly. Accordingly, Justice Peters had prepared an opinion regarding the law on treason and intended to circulate the opinion at some point in the trial to reign in Fries’s attorneys. Justice Chase instead handed the opinion out at the opening of the case, which caused Fries’s attorneys to withdraw, as the attorneys could not make their intended arguments. Still, the case went forward, with Justice Chase acting for Fries, who refused to have other appointed counsel. Only certain facts could be elicited for Fries’s defense without counsel, such as that Fries did not know the specific prisoners he had freed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Peters, J.)

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