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Statement of the Case.
547; Fenwick v. Maryland, 63 Maryland, 239. In the latter case it was held that a person on trial for an assault with intent to commit murder is competent to testify as to the purpose for which he procured the instrument with which he committed the assault.
This rule is not controverted, but it is contended that Wallace's belief was immaterial. For the reasons given we cannot concur in that view and are of opinion that the witness should have been allowed to answer.
It is unnecessary to pass upon any of the other points raised on behalf of plaintiff in error. Judgment reversed and cause remanded with a direction to
set aside the verdict and grant a new trial.
CAMPBELL v. PORTER.
ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.
No. 137. Argued March 10, 11, 1896. – Decided April 20, 1896.
A writ of error is the proper form of bringing up to this court an order of
the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia admitting a will to
probate. Since the act of July 9, 1888, c. 597, as before that act, the Supreme Court
of the District of Columbia has no power to admit a will or codicil to probate as a devise of real estate.
This was a petition by the executors of the will of the late Admiral David D. Porter, who died February 13, 1891, to the special term of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, sitting as an orphans' court, for the admission to probate of his will and of a codicil thereto.
Upon citation to the next of kin, Elena Porter, a daughter of the testator, having become by marriage Elena Campbell, appeared and demanded full proof of the execution of the will and codicil.
The will and the codicil each bore the signature of the testator, and those of the same three persons as witnesses.
Argument for Plaintiff in Error.
At the hearing in special term, it was shown by the examination of the witnesses, that the will was duly executed by the testator, and attested by all three witnesses, and that the codicil was signed by the testator, and attested by two of the witnesses; and the only controverted question was whether the testator did or did not make or acknowledge his signature to the codicil in the presence of the third witness.
Upon the whole evidence (which was set forth in the record, but is unnecessary to the understanding of the points decided by this court) the judge holding the special term ordered the will to be admitted to probate as to both real and personal property, and the codicil to be admitted to probate in respect of personal property ; and certified to the general term, for hearing in the first instance, the question of the sufficiency of the codicil to devise or dispose of real estate.
At the hearing in general term, it was ordered and adjudged, for reasons stated in the opinion reported in 9 Mackey, (20 D. C.) 493, that the codicil was duly executed by the testator, and subscribed and attested by three witnesses, as required by law, and should be admitted to probate as a devise of real estate. A bill of exceptions to this ruling and order was tendered by Mrs. Campbell, and allowed by the court, which certified that the value of the real estate devised to her in the codicil was less than that devised to her in the will by more than the sum of $5000, a sufficient amount to sustain the appellate jurisdiction of this court, under the act of March 3, 1885, c. 355. 23 Stat. 443.
. And Mrs. Campbell, on June 22, 1892, sued out this writ of
Mr. W. D. Davidge, (with whom was Mr. W. D. Davidge, Jr., on the brief,) for plaintiff in error, as to the point on which the case turned in this court:
It is said on the other side that the court below in special term had no power to admit to probate a will or codicil as a devise of real estate.
Argument for Defendant in Error.
Such was the law prior to the act of Congress of July 9, 1888, c. 597, 25 Stat. 246; Robertson v. Pickrell, 109 U. S. 608, 610; Barbour v. Moore, 4 App. Cas. D. C. 535, 544.
But the above act enacted as follows: “The record of any will or codicil heretofore or hereafter recorded in the office of the register of wills of the District of Columbia, which shall have been admitted to probate by the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, or by the late orphans' court of said District, or the record of the transcript of the record and probate of any will or codicil elsewhere, or of any certified copy thereof, heretofore or hereafter filed in the office of said register of wills shall be prima facie evidence of the contents and due execution of such wills and codicils: Provided, that this act shall not apply in any cause now pending in any of the courts of the District of Columbia.”
Whatever may be said as to the retroactive operation of that law, there can be no doubt that the record of wills of real estate, admitted to probate since its passage, is prima facie evidence as to two matters — contents and due execution. Bar. bour v. Moore, 4 App. Cas. 535.
Mr. Chapin Brown for defendant in error.
This case is not properly before this court for review. It should have been brought here by appeal, and not by writ of error. The proceedings under which the case was tried below, are provided for in the Maryland act of 1798. Ormsby v. Webb, 134 U. S. 47, does not apply to the case at bar.
But in the present case all of the testimony was taken under the law by depositions in writing and tried and determined by the General Term of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, sitting as an orphans' court, without a jury trial. There is no provision of law or of practice for framing a bill of exceptions in this case (Stewart v. Pattison's Eccr. 8 Gill, pp. 46, 54), and the law relating to trial and appeal, where the facts are tried by the court on depositions in writing, is different from that relating to trial by jury.
But it is clear that the orphans' court had no jurisdiction
Opinion of the Court.
to try any question relating to a devise of real estate, and was without jurisdiction to pass the order admitting the codicil to probate as a devise of real estate.
The court in General Term of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia was sitting as an orphans' court when it passed this order, and had only the powers and jurisdiction of the orphans' court.
When the court ordered that the codicil be admitted to probate in respect of personal property, the powers and jurisdiction of the orphan's court were exhausted and final, and there was no appeal from this order, or exception taken to the order in this respect.
Mr. JUSTICE GRAY, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.
It was contended, in behalf of the defendants in error, that the case should have been brought to this court by appeal, and not by writ of error. But we consider this point as settled by the decision made six years ago in Ormsby v. Webb, 134 U. S. 47, 64, 65, in which a motion to dismiss, for the same reason, a writ of error to review a judgment of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, admitting a will to probate, was denied by this court, not merely because in that case a trial by jury had been actually had, but upon the more general ground that a proceeding for the probate of a will in the District of Columbia was not a suit in equity, and was a case in which the parties had the right to claim a trial by jury, and in which there might be adversary parties, and a final judgment affecting rights of property. See Price v. Taylor, 21 Maryland, 356, 363. The decision in Ormsby v. Webb has since been understood as governing the practice in the District, and evidently guided the course of the plaintiff in error in the present case. Under these circumstances, the question whether the form of bringing up a probate case shall be by writ of error or by appeal does not appear to us to be so important in its consequences that it should now be reconsidered.
Opinion of the Court.
A more serious question of jurisdiction, presented by this record, is whether the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia had power to admit a will or codicil to probate as a devise of real estate. Curiously enough, it is the plaintiff in error who contends that it had, and the defendants in error who insist that it had not. But it is immaterial by which party the question is made, for, being a question of jurisdiction, it would be the duty of this court of its own motion to take notice of it.
This question depends upon the act of Congress of July 9, 1888, c. 597, entitled "An act relating to the record of wills in the District of Columbia," and the whole of the rest of which is as follows: "The record of any will or codicil, heretofore or hereafter recorded in the office of the register of wills of the District of Columbia, which shall have been admitted to probate by the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, or by the late orphans' court of said district, or the record of the transcript of the record and probate of any will or codicil elsewhere, or of any certified copy thereof, heretofore or hereafter filed in the office of said register of wills, shall be prima facie evidence of the contents and due execution of such wills and codicils: Provided, that this act shall not apply in any cause now pending in any of the courts of the District of Columbia.” 25 Stat. 246.
In order to determine the scope and effect of this act, it is necessary to consider what the law upon the subject was in the District of Columbia before its passage.
The law of wills and of probate, as existing in Maryland on February 27, 1801, is the law of the District of Columbia, except as since altered by Congress; and the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, in special and general term respectively, has, by virtue of successive acts of Congress, the probate jurisdiction formerly exercised by the orphans' court and the Court of Chancery of the State of Maryland, and by the orphans' court and the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Columbia; with authority, also, at a special term, to order any matter to be heard in the first instance at a general term. Acts of February 27, 1801, c. 15, SS 1, 12; 2