Criminal Law, Pages 195–198

People v. Weiss

New York State Court of Appeals, 1938

Facts:

Defendants were approached by Parker, who sought help in apprehending Wendel, whom they thought kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. Prosecution gave defendant a badge and said he was appointing them deputies and to help him arrest him. They accepted, captured Wendel, and tortured him into confessing. Parker was not actually a law enforcement officer, Wendel was innocent, and defendants had no authority to confine him.

Procedural History:

Defendants were convicted of kidnapping after the jury was instructed to find so even if defendants believed they were authorized to restrain Wendel.

Issue:

Did defendants willfully intend to confine Wendel without authority of law?

Reasoning:

As the law requires one to intent to act without the authority of law, defendants' guilt hangs upon whether or not they were so authorized, contrary to what the trial court said.

Holding:

If defendants believed they had authority to confine Wendel, they did not intent to do so without it. Reversed and new trial ordered.

Dissenting Opinion:

Crane: Defendants intended to and actually did confine Wendel, which is all the law requires. It does not matter that they believed they had authority to do so. The exclusion of testimony supporting their belief is immaterial as they testified of this themselves. Even if the majority was right about the law, defendants still tortured Wendel after confining him, which they surely knew they were not legally authorized to do, showing that they did not believe they were just following the law in their interactions with him.


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