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icines administered—after which, the Attorney General submitted the case to the decision of the jury.)
THE CHARGE TO THE JURY.
Judge BRICE. Gentlemen of the Jury: This is certainly a case of much importance, not only to the public, but to the practitioners of medicine in general, as well as to the individual whose conduct is now the subject of investigation; and as it is not one of ordinary occurrence, the jury will no doubt be rather gratified than otherwise in having the assistance of the Court in making up a correct verdict.
We have had several occasions in the progress of this cause to state what we now think proper to repeat, that it is not your province to decide on the merits or demerits of the Thomsonian theory and mode of practice, compared with others. Whether he has or has not made any valuable discovery in the science of medicine, as he and his followers assert he has, must be referred to the discussion of the learned faculty and the test of experience; the province of the criminal code, which we are called on to administer, is confined to the investigation of human actions and motives only. Your inquiries, therefore, will be directed to what was the actual effect and operation of the medicines used on the person of the deceased as causes of his death, and the qualification of the prisoner to administer them, without regarding the particular system or theory on which his practice is founded. It will depend upon your opinions on these subjects, whether the death of the patient shall be attributed to the prisoner as his misfortune or his fault-mistake or a crime.
To support the issue on behalf of the state, it must be proved to your entire satisfaction that the deceased came to his death by the means stated in the indictment. If you should be of opinion, that he did not, there is an end of the cause; the prisoner must be acquitted—but if, on the contrary, you shall be satisfied that the death was caused by the medicine used, and other treatment directed by the prisoner, the latter will be criminally responsible for his agency, provided you shall be satisfied from the evidence that he was either grossly ignorant of his profession, or was guilty of gross rashness and imprudence in the management of the case under his care. The first principle is adopted by the law to prevent ignorant persons from a presumptious tampering with human life, and the second to enforce the duty of diligence in the administration of the means of cure when once commenced.
To avoid the imputation of gross ignorance, it is not necessary that the physician shall have pursued any prescribed course of study, or be attached to any particular system of medicine—nor is it material in the view of the criminal code whether he has been licensed by the faculty or not; but it is incumbent on him, when required, to give satisfactory proof that he had, at least, what the law books term a general competency, and that he had acquired from study or practice and observation, such a degree of skill and experience in his profession as would warrant a discreet and conscientious man in believing himself competent to discharge the duties he had undertaken to perform. In deciding on this part of the case, the prisoner will be entitled to the benefit of the very respectable testimony given of his skill and long experience, and of the success with which he and others have administered the same remedies which were used in the case under consideration. If you believe this testimony, we think he will be entitled to an acquittal from the charge of gross ignorance.
If the general competency of the prisoner is established to your satisfaction, the remaining inquiry will be as to the correctness of the imputation of gross rashness and extreme indiscretion in the application of the means of cure adopted by him.
This is certainly a grave charge, and if supported by the testimony, will justly consign the prisoner to infamy and punishment; but before you draw such a conclusion, it is proper for the Court to inform you that the fact ought to be sustained by such cogent and irresistiblo proof as will leave
no rational doubt on your minds of its truth; for where there is a rational doubt, the rules of law, as well as the dictates of charity, prefer attributing the melancholy event to any other cause which is consistent with the prisoner's innocence, rather than to that reckless and criminal indifference to human suffering, which is characterized by gross rashness and want of due care. Physicians are all deeply interested in the question of responsibility in cases of this kind; they are often obliged to exercise a discretion which to bystanders and unskillful persons may appear rash and unfeeling, but which may, nevertheless, be dictated by the soundest judgment and the kindest feelings towards the patient, and an anxious desire to promote his recovery. To use the language of Lord Hale, “God forbid that a failure should subject the unfortunate practitioner to a criminal prosecution, when he has done the best he could to effect a cure."
It will be for you, gentlemen, to apply these principles to the present case, according to your understanding of the testimony.
To sum up the whole, the Court are of opinion, and so direct the jury, that if they shall find from the testimony that the prisoner was either grossly ignorant of his profession, or acted with improper rashness and want of due caution in the care of his patient, and shall also be of opinion that the death of the patient ensued from the causes assigned in the indictment, then they should find a verdict of guilty; but, if, on the contrary, the jury shall be of opinion, that the prisoner was possessed of reasonable competency in the line of his profession, and that he applied the remedies to the best of his judgment, and with an honest design, to effect a cure or prevent disease, he is not guilty of the alleged crime, although the death was owing to the causes set forth in the indictment"
The Jury retired and returned in a short time with a verdict of Not Guilty.
THE TRIAL OF CHARLES SPRAGUE FOR
One morning in the summer of 1849, a young girl was going to her daily work, when she was seized by a man who threw her down, pulled off one of her shoes and ran off with it. He was on the way to his daily labor also, and when he reached the printing office, after hanging his overcoat on a nail, he quietly took his place at his case and began setting type as usual. When the story reached the office, and he was asked where the shoe was, he replied that it was in the pocket of his overcoat, where it was found. Tried for robbery, his father, a Congregational clergyman, told to the jury a strange story of how he was always peculiar in his ways, the result of several falls when a boy, how he was too backward to ever prepare for college and how for years he had the habit of stealing women's shoes whenever and wherever he could lay his hands on them. Two physicians testified that this was a form of insanity, and the jury acquitted him on this ground.
THE TRIAL. In the Court of Oyer and Terminor for Kings County (Brook
lyn), New York, October, 1849. MR. JUSTICE MORSE,”Presiding.
The prisoner, Charles Sprague, had been heretofore indicted for robbery, alleged to have taken place on August 18 last. He pleaded Not Guilty.
1 Bibliography. *"Reports of the Decisions in Criminal Cases made at Term at Chambers and in the Courts of Oyer and Terminer of the State of New York. By Amasa J. Parker, LL. D., one of the Justices of the Supreme Court. In 6 Vols. Albany and New York. Gould, Banks & Co. 1855.” 2 See p. 92.
H. B. Duryea, District Attorney, for the People.
THE EVIDENCE. Sarah Watson. I am the com- James Smith. Am a printer plainant in this case. About and one of the proprietors of eight on the morning of Au- the Long Island Star newspaper.
along Pearl street in Brooklyn. as a journeyman printer. ReHeard some person behind me; member the morning of August looked round and saw prisoner, 18th. Prisoner arrived at the who immediately seized me, office that morning at the usual threw me down, took a shoe time, hung up his overcoat and from one of my feet, and ran went to work as usual. About away. I was wearing a gold ten o'clock we learned of the chain, but it could not be seen outrage on Miss Watson, and by him. There was a man near that Sprague was the man, and by, whom I did not know. He so I asked him where the shoe hallooed at prisoner, and gave was. He answered at once: chase to him. The prisoner, how- "It's in my overcoat pocket.” ever, outran him and escaped. We searched and found it there.
The shoe produced is the one The shoe produced is the one. I wore and which prisoner took Prisoner made no attempt to from my foot.
conceal or to explain anything. Mr. Dikeman. The prisoner is certainly guilty if he is sane, and we shall simply endeavor to prove that as to the offense charged he was not and is not in his right mind and is therefore not punishable for the act.
THE DEFENSE. Rev. Isaac N. Sprague. Am four years ago; since his return a Congregational minister and from Hartford he has lived at the father of Charles, the pris- home. He is married, and with oner. He is twenty-five years his wife was living at my house of age; he has generally resided at the time of the assault upon at home, but he spent a year Miss Watson; Charles has at with a brother at Hartford, different times received wounds Conn., where he went about and bruises upon the head;
3 DURYEA, HARMANUS B. Born 1815, Newtown, N. Y. District Attorney Queens Co., 1847. Member New York Assembly, 1857. Served in the Civil War.
4 See p. 92. 5 SPOONER, ALDEN JEREMIAH. (1810-1881.) Born Sag Harbor, N. Y. Although a lawyer, he is best known as a historian. He founded the Long Island Historical Society, in 1863, collected a large library, and wrote much on historical topics.