Speluncean Explorers v. Court of General Instances of the
A. Five members of the Speluncean Society went into a cave to explore. While they were in the cave a landslide occurred covering the entrance and trapping them in.
B. Twenty days later after the entrapment messages were sent from the explorers to a rescue team outside of the cave.
C. The explorers explained their conditions and rations to doctors and asked if they would be able to survive until the predicted date they would be saved.
The doctors said no.
D. Eight hours later, Roger Whetmore speaking on behalf of the explorers, asked if they could survive if they ate one of their own. The doctors said yes.
E. Whetmore than asked the doctors if it would be advisable to cast lots to determine who should be eaten. The doctors didn’t answer. He then asked if any judge, official, minister, or priest was present none of the rescuers said they were.
F. On the twenty third day Whetmore was eaten.
G. Whetmore was the explorer who came up with the idea of killing someone in order for the others to survive.
H. Whetmore also came up with the idea of rolling dice to decide who would be killed
I. After the rescue of the four remaining explorers on the thirty second day the survivors were indicted for the murder of Roger Whetmore.
Is being trapped in a cave with little chance to live an exception to the statute N.C.S.A (N.S.)12-A?
No. The Supreme Court sentenced the four survivors to death for the murder of Roger Whetmore.
The Supreme Court was evenly divided so the original conviction of murder from the Court of General Instances was affirmed.
Law and morality most definitely share a relationship. Lon L. Fuller, the author of “The Case of the Speluncean Explorers”, distinguishes this connection between the morality of duty and the morality of aspiration, both of which bear on the design and operation of social institutions. Well in this case, the social institution happens to be the Supreme court of Newgarth in the year 4300. A group of four members of the Speluncean Society, which was an organization for amateurs interested in the exploration of caves, are appealing there sentence handed to them from the Court of General Instances of the county of Stowfield. A panel of five justices presided over the case, and after extensive hearings, each justice reached a unique judgement.
The events that took place in the case are a bit extraordinary. Roger Whitmore and the four defendants, also members of the society, penetrated the interior of a limestone cavern. While they journeyed further into the cave, a landslide occurred, and jammed the only means of entrance and exit for the cave. As the men realized they were in a serious situation, they set camp near the boulders that set them apart from the world to wait on a rescue party. The task to remove the boulders proved to be a difficult one for the rescuers, and days went by without success. On the thirty second day, success was finally achieved, but only four members of the society had survived this tragedy. The explorers carried into the cave only scant provisions, so the need for food was great in order to survive. The life of one of the explorers was taken by the others to use as nourishment for the remaining survivors. The testimony heard in the first case, declared that the life of Roger Whetmore had been taken, but it was he who initially proposed the killing of one explorer to feed the remaining. Whetmore proposed the rolling of dice to declare the victim. The dice toss went against Whetmore, so he was put to death and eaten by his companions. This is where the courts enter this bizarre case. After the survivors were treated and released from a stay in the hospital, they were indicted for the murder of Roger Whetmore. A trial found the defendants guilty of murder and sentenced them to be hanged. The defendants wanted the case to be sent to a higher court and it was heard before a panel of five justices.
This is where the philosophy of jurisprudence enters the case. Were the men out of line by committing murder to prolong their lives? According to the laws of the Commonwealth, yes. The language of this situation is well known, “Whoever shall willfully take the life of another, shall be punished by death.” But if you take the natural law point of view, which is “when a situation arises in which the coexistence of men becomes impossible, then a condition that underlies all of our precedents and statues has ceased to exist.” (Foster, pp.620). This means that the men in the cave were in such a predicament, that all common law known to man ceases to exist, and the men are bounded by no known jurisprudence. The law now rests solely in their hands. The five justices take different views on the philosophy of jurisprudence.
Justice Truepenny, C.J. admires the decision made by the jury and trial judge. He feels they complied with the only course that was open to them under the law. Statue N.C.S.A. (n.c.) Sec. 12-A, The willful taking of another mans life must be punishable by death permits no exception to this case and our personal sympathies must not overshadow the strength of this statute. Truepennny feels though as if executive clemency seems suitable for a case like this. Some sort of pardon or forgiveness should be sent out to the defendants. If this is done, then some sort of justice will be accomplished without impairing the soul of our statutes and without offering any encouragement for the disregard of law.
Justice Foster, J. does not see it as Truepenny does. Foster believes something more is on trial than the fate of these men. That is the law of our Commonwealth. The law should not compel that these explorers are murderers. He believes it declares them to be innocent of any crime at all resting on two independent grounds. One is the inapplicability of the positive law of this Commonwealth including all its statutes and precedents. The case should be handled in the manner of what ancient writers in Europe and America call ” the law of nature”. This means when man is in so far over his head that coexistence becomes impossible, the force of positive law should disappear. Exactly as in this situation where the taking of one life was able to prolong others, the basic premises underlying our entire legal order must lose their meaning and force. Jurisdiction rests on a territorial basis. These men were pretty much living in their own “private and secluded” world unattainable by any outsiders The law of nature entitles these men to make their own laws and jurisdictions within the confines of their cave. So the life of Roger Whetmore was taken in a “state of civil society”,but rather in a “state of nature”. Foster has no difficulty stating that under these principles, the explorers were guiltless of any crime. What these men did was done on pursuance of an agreement accepted by all and first proposed by Whetmore himself. Their extraordinary predicament left them no choice but to leave the usual principles that regulate men’s relations and form some sort of government related to the situation at hand.
Foster’s second ground proceeds by rejecting his entire exposition of the first ground. For purposes of argument, Foster states he is wrong in saying that the situation these men found themselves in removes them from the effects of our positive law. It is assumed that the Consolidated Statutes have the power to penetrate five hundred feet of solid rock. These men without a doubt violated the statute that states “he who shall willfully take the life of another is a murder”. An example of taking statutes literal word for word is in Commonwealth v. Staymore. The defendant here had his vehicle parked in a two hour parking zone, but due to a political demonstration, was unable to remove his car within the two hour limit. His conviction was set aside by the court, although his case fell squarely within the wording of the statute. Statutes are never taken literal. The statute that holds the fate of the explorers has never been applied literally. Take for example killing in self defense. The statute mentions nothing about this exception, yet murderers for centuries have been set free by this plea. The statute at hand was not intended to apply to self defense cases. A man threatening the life of another would naturally repel the threatened man. The same reasoning is applicable to the case at hand. If a group of men ever find themselves in a predicament such as explorers, you can be sure decisions on whether to live or die will not be controlled by the contents of our law. Therefore, the statute in question does not at all apply to the case at hand such as the self defense plea. Foster’s conclusions is that the defendants are innocent of the murder of Whetmore, and the conviction should be set aside.
Justice Tatting finds himself letting his own emotions get the better of him when viewing this case. He finds himself torn between sympathy for the explorers and disgust in the brutal act they committed. Tatting finds Justice Foster’s opinions on the case shot through “contradictions and fallacies”. Tatting is confused in Foster’s point that the men were not in a state of civil society, but rather in a state of nature. When exactly did this transition from civil to nature take place? That is the question that baffles Tatting and it is an uncertainty that produces a lot of difficulties. Tatting uses an example that what if a man in the cave had his twenty first birthday. Is he twenty-one at the exact time of his birthday, or does the “new character of government” not make him twenty-one? Justice Foster and Tatting are appointed judges of a court of the Commonwealth of Newgarth, sworn and empowered to uphold the laws of that Commonwealth. Entering a court of nature, what kind of empowerment does a justice hold now? If the explorers were under a court of nature, what gives the justice’s power to enforce. Nothing at all. We are in a state of positivistic law, not in a state of nature. Another implication embarked by Foster that Justice Tatting cannot find tolerable is the actual murder of Whetmore and the fashion in which it took place, by their bargain. Suppose Whetmore had a handgun and blasted his companions before they attacked him. Whetmore would naturally be made out the murderer, since the excuse of self defense would have to be denied to him. You cannot attempt to kill the man who releases the gas in the gas chamber and call it self defense. The natural law in the cave called for the death of Whetmore, and the death of him must be upheld. All the considerations brought forth by Foster make it hard for Tatting to reach a conclusion.
Tatting has a hard time coping with Foster’s second opinion which states “no statue whatever its language, should be applied in a way that contradicts its purpose.” In Commonwealth v. Valjean, the defendant was indicted for the larceny of a loaf of bread. His defense was that he was starving to death and needed that bread to survive. The court refused to except the defense. If hunger cannot justify the theft of wholesome and tasty food, how could it justify the killing and eating of a man. Foster’s view would have caused the court to overrule Commonwealth v. Valjean, by “reading between the lines” of that particular statute that forbids theft. Tatting concludes Foster’s arguments are intellectually unsound. Yet, he finds it absurd to direct these men to death when the cost of ten workmen’s lives were lost in rescuing the explorers. The confused Tatting declared his withdrawal from the decision in this case.
Justice Keen would empower executive Clemency to the defendants if the conviction is affirmed. But that is a question for the Chief Executive, not for the courts to decide. Due to all the ordeals that explorers have been through and all they have suffered, he felt they have already paid for their crime, if there was at all a crime that was committed. The sole question that lies before the panel is whether the defendants did, within the meaning of statute N.C.S.A.secl2-A, willfully take the life of Roger Whetmore. Obviously, in every sense of that statute, the defendants are guilty. This is where all the difficulties of the case take action. All these difficulties trace back to a single source, and that source is the failure to distinguish the legal from the moral aspect of this case. Truepenny, Foster, and Tatting do not like the fact that evidence against the defendants proves them guilty. But unlike them, Keen puts his personal feelings aside and takes the liberty to uphold the law of his Commonwealth. It is the responsibility of the judiciary to enforce faithfully the written law, and to interpret the law in accordance with its plain meaning without reference to our personal desires or our individual conceptions of justice. The process of judicial reform requires three steps:
1) Divine some single “purpose” which the statute serve
2) Discover that a mythical being called “the legislature”, in the
pursuit of this imagined purpose”, over looked something or
left some gap or imperfection in his work.
3) To fill in the blank thus created, Quod erat faciendum.
This case is a model for all models in cases that illustrate the gap-filling process. If we do not know the purpose of Sec. 12-A, how can we possibly say there is a gap in it. Only the draftsmen of that statute actually know the “true’ meaning of murder. Keen’s decision is a hard decision and that type is never a popular one. Keen concludes that the conviction should be affirmed.
Justice Handy is the fifth and final justice to preside over this case. Handy is amazed at his colleague’s ability to throw an obscuring curtain of legalisms about every issue presented to them for decision. Handy’s only disappointment was that his fellow Justices failed to arise the issue of the legal nature of the bargain struck in the cave. Whether it was unilateral or bilateral, and whether Whetmore could not be considered as having
revoked an offer prior to the murder.
Handy takes the point of view that government is a human affair, and men are ruled by other men, not words on paper or abstract theories. Of all the branches of government, the judiciary is the most likely to touch with the common man. The public tends to keep a tie between the law and man. A newspaper held a poll that said ” what do you think the Supreme Court should do with the Speluncean Explorers?” Ninety percent of those who reported back expressed the belief that the defendants should be pardoned.
Handy’s concluding remark has to do with executive Clemency. Due to the Chief Executives aging years, he feels he is incapable of handing these men pardons. He holds very stiff notions. The public clamor will not uphold with him for it actually has a reverse affect. So in return, Justice Handy finds the defendants innocent of the crime charged, and that the conviction and sentence should be set aside.
The Supreme Court, being evenly divided, the conviction of the court of General Instances is affirmed. Each defendant is ordered to be hanged around the neck until death.
In conclusion, I feel this case if it was real would of been very interesting to see unfold. In today’s society I think that the defendants would have been pardon for the “crime” they committed. If they were not pardoned I do not think execution would have been an option. This case was very interesting to read. You can look at what happened as murder or survival of the fittest. There are so many different opinions and ways you can look at what happen. If you believe that precedents and statues are what need to be followed with no exceptions, then yes the four defendants should be found guilty and sentenced to death. If you think that under the circumstances the actions that were taken for the four to survive were reasonable, then yes they should be pardoned. If I was in the cave I don’t think I would of just raffled my life away. It is hard for me to even think of eating a dead body, so it is even harder for me to think of what I would of done if I was in that situation. As I am sitting in front of the computer typing this paper in a climate controlled room, with dinner consumed less than two hours ago I would have to say that what I would of done is not kill or raffle for some ones death. What I would suggest is no one gets killed, but the first one to die is eaten. This is the only logical decision I can think of. Why should anyone sacrifice their life for me. It’s not like one persons life is more important than the other. If I was the judge on this case I would have found them guilty of murder, but sentence them to two years of therapy, and not death or prison time. I would sentence them to therapy because if you eat a dead person I pretty sure your going to have some kind of psychological problems.
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