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Vaux’s Case. - Sir Edward Coke, Selected Writings of Sir Edward Coke, vol. I 
The Selected Writings and Speeches of Sir Edward Coke, ed. Steve Sheppard (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003). Vol. 1.
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(1591) Easter Term, 33 Elizabeth I In the Court of King’s Bench.
First Published in the Reports, volume 4, page 44a.
Ed.: William Vaux was arrested for poisoning Nicholas Ridley, which apparently he did at the instigation of Ridley’s wife, by having Ridleyconsume a drink poisoned with ground cantharide beetles. Ridley died. Vaux was indicted, but the form of his indictment neglected to state that Ridley actually drank the poison. The court of assize rendered a judgment that Vaux was a murderer but the indictment was insufficient. Vaux argued he was not guilty, but that anyway he could not be tried twice for the same crime. The King’s Bench agreed that the Common Law will not allow double jeopardy, or a person to be twice put in jeopardy of trial for the same offence, but that in this case Vaux had never been truly acquitted because he had never been in danger of punishment. An insufficient indictment cannot be the basis for release even upon a guilty verdict or a confession, but there must be a new trial. Vaux was retried, found guilty, and hanged.
William Vaux at the sessions of peace for the country of Northumberland, held 27 Julii, anno 32 Eliz. before the justices of peace of the same county, was indicted of voluntarily poisoning of Nicholas Ridley, which indictment was removed into the King’s Bench: and in discharge thereof the said Vaux pleaded, that at another time, scil. 12 Augusti, anno 30 Eliz. at Newcastle upon Tyne in the county of Northumberland, before the Justices of Assise of the same county the said Vaux was indicted: quod cum Nich’ Ridley nuper de W. in com’ praed’ Armig’ jam defunctus, per multos annos, ante obitum suum nuptus fuisset cuidam Margaretae uxori ejus, et nullum exitum habuit, praed’ Will’ Vaux nuper de K. in com’ C. generos subdolè, cautè, at diabolice intendens mortem, venenationem, et destructionem ipsius Nicolai, et Deum prae oculis non habens, 20 Decembris, anno 28 Eliz. apud W. praedict’ felonice, voluntarie, et ex malitia sua precogitata, persuadebat eundem Nichol’ recipere et bibere quendam potum mixtum cum quodam veneno vocat’ cantharides, affirmans et verificans eidem Nich’ quod’ praed’ potus sic mixtus cum praed’ veneno vocat’ canth’ non fuit intoxicatus (Anglicè poisoned) sed quod per reception’ inde praed’ Nich’ exit’ de corpore dictae Margaretae tunc uxoris suae procuraret, et haberet ratione cujus quidem persuasionis et instigationis praed’ Nich’ postea, scil. 16 Januarii anno supradicto apud T. in com’ N. praed’ nesciens praedictum potum cum veneno in forma praedict’ fore mixt’, sed fidem adhibens praedict’ persuasioni dicti Willielmi recepit et bibit, per quod praedictus Nicholaus immediate |[44 b] post receptionemveneni praedicti per tres horas immediatè sequent’ languebat, et postea praed’ 16 Jan. anno supradict’ ex venenatione et intoxicat’ praed’ apud T. praed’ obiit: et sic praed’ Will’ Vaux felonicè et ex malitia sua praecogitata praefat’ Nich’ voluntariè et felonicè modo et forma praed’ intoxicavit, interfecit, et murdravit, contrapacem, &c.1 Upon which indictment the said Vaux was arraigned before the same justices, and pleaded not guilty: and the jurors gave aspecial verdict, and found, quod praed’ Nich’ Ridley venenatus fuit Anglicè poisoned, per receptionem praed’ cantharides, et quod praed’ Will’ Vaux non fuit praesens tempore quo praed’ Nich’ Ridley recepit praed’ canth’ sed utrum, &c.2 And thereupon judgment was given by the said Justices of Assise in this manner; super quo visis, et per Cur’ hic intellectis omnibus et singulis praemissis, pro eo quod videtur Cur’ hic super tota materia per veredictum praed’ in forma praed’ compert’, quod praed’ venenatio per reception’ canth’ et praed’ procuratio praed’ Will’ ad procurand’ praed’ Nich’ ad accipiend’ praed’ canth’ modo et forma prout per verdict’ praed’ compert’ fuit non fuit felonia et murdrum voluntar’: ideo considerat’ est quod praed’ Will’ Vaux, de felonia et murdro praed’ indictamento praed’ superius specificat’ necnon de dicta felonica venenatione praed’ Nich’ Ridley in eodem indictamento nominati eidem Will’ imposit’ eat sine die:3 and as to the felony and murder he pleaded not guilty.
And, first, it was resolved per totam Curiam,4 That the said indictment upon which Vaux was so arraigned was insufficient; and principally because it is not expressly alleged in the indictment, that the said Ridley received and drank the said poison, for the indictment is, praed’ Nich’ nesciens praed’ potum cum veneno fore intoxicatum, sed fidem adhibens dict’ persuasioni dicti W. recepit et bibit, per quod, &c.5 So that it doth not appear what thing he drank, for these words (“venenum praed ”)6 are wanting; and the subsequent words, scilicet per quod praedict’ N. immediate post receptionem veneni praedict’ &c.7 which words imply receipt of poison, are not sufficient to maintain the indictment, for the matter of the indictment ought to be full, express, and certain, and shall not be maintained by argument or implication, because the indictment is found by the oath of laymen.
2. It was agreed per Curiam, That Vaux was a principal murderer, although he was not present at the time of the receipt of the poison, for otherwise he would be guilty of such horrible offence, and yet should be unpunished, which would be inconvenient and mischievous: for every felon is either principal or accessary, and if there is no principal there can be no accessory, quia accessorium sequitur principalem;8 and if any had procured Vaux to do it, he had been accessary before; quod |[45 a] nota9 a special case, where the principal and accessory also shall both be absent at the time of the felony committed.
3. It was resolved by the Lord Wray, Sir Thomas Gawdy, Clench, and Fenner, Justices, that the reason of Auterfoits acquit10 was, because where the Maxim of Common Law is, that the life of a man shall not be twice put in jeopardy for one and the same offence, and that is the reason and cause that Auterfoits acquitted or convicted of the same offence is a good plea; yet it is intendable of a lawful acquittal or conviction, for if the conviction or acquittal is not lawful, his life was never in jeopardy; and because the indictment in this case was insufficient, for this reason he was not legitimo modo acquietatus,11 and that is well proved, because upon such acquittal he shall not have an action of conspiracy, as it is agreed in 9 Edw. 4. 12 a. b. vide 20 Edw. 4. 6. And in such Case in Appeal, notwithstanding such insufficientindictment, the abettor shall be enquired of as it is there also held; and although the judgment is given that he shall be acquitted of the felony, yet this acquittal shall not help him, because he was not legitimo modo acquietatus; and when the law saith, that Auterfoits acquitted is a good plea, it shall be intended when he is lawfully acquitted; and that agrees with the old book in 19 Edw. 3. Corone 444. where it is agreed, That if the process upon indictment or appeal is not sufficient, yet if the party appears (by which all imperfections of the process are saved) and is acquitted, he shall be discharged; but if the appeal or indictment is insufficient (as our case is) there it is otherwise: But if one, upon an insufficient indictment of felony, has judgment, quod suspend’ per coll’,12 and so attainted, which is the judgment and end which the law has appointed for the felony, there he cannot be again indicted and arraigned until this judgment is reversed by error: But when the offender is discharged upon an insufficient indictment, there the law has not had its end; nor was the life of the party, in the judgment of the law, ever in jeopardy; and the wisdom of the law abhors that great offences should go unpunished, which was grounded without question upon these ancient maxims of law and state; maleficia non debent remanere impunita, et impunitas continuum affectum tribuit delinquendi, et minatur innocentes qui parcit nocentibus:13 So if a man be convicted either by verdict or confession upon an insufficient indictment, and no judgment thereupon given, he may be again indicted and arraigned, because his life was never in jeopardy, and the law wants its end; And afterwards, upon a new indictment, the said Vaux was tried and found guilty, and had his judgment and was hanged.
[1. ][Ed.: That, whereas Nicholas Ridley, late of W. in the aforesaid county, esquire, now deceased for many years, before his death was married to a certain Margaret his wife, and they had no issue, the aforesaid William Vaux, late of K. in the county of C., gentleman, wickedly, advisedly and devilishly intending the death, poisoning and destruction of the selfsame Nicholas, and not having God before his eyes, on the twentieth day of December in the twenty-eighth year of Elizabeth, at W. aforesaid, feloniously, wilfully and of his malice aforethought, persuaded the same Nicholas to accept and drink a certain drink mixed with a certain poison called cantharides, affirming and averring to the same Nicholas that the aforesaid drink, so mixed with the aforesaid poison called cantharides, was not poisoned but that by accepting thereof the aforesaid Nicholas would procure and have issue of the body of the said Margaret then his wife, by reason of which persuasion and instigation the aforesaid Nicholas afterwards, that is to say, on the sixteenth day of January in the above mentioned year, at T. in the county of N. aforesaid, not knowing the aforesaid drink to be mixed with the aforesaid poison, but trusting to the persuasion of the said William, accepted and drank it, whereby the aforesaid Nicholas immediately after receiving the aforesaid poison was ill for three hours immediately following, and afterwards, on the aforesaid sixteenth day of January in the above mentioned year, died from the poisoning and intoxication aforesaid at T. aforesaid, and thus the aforesaid William Vaux feloniously and of his malice aforethought wilfully and feloniously in manner and form aforesaid poisoned, killed and murdered the aforesaid Nicholas, against the peace, etc.]
[2. ][Ed.: that the aforesaid Nicholas Ridley was poisoned by the receiving of the aforesaid cantharides, and that the aforesaid William Vaux was not present at the time when the aforesaid Nicholas Ridleyaccepted the aforesaid cantharides, but whether, etc.]
[3. ][Ed.: Whereupon, all and singular the foregoing having been seen and fully understood by the court here, forasmuch as it seems to the court here upon the whole material found by the aforesaid verdict in form aforesaid that the aforesaid poisoning by the acceptance of the cantharides, and the aforesaidprocuring by the aforesaid William to procure the aforesaid Nicholas to accept the aforesaid cantharides, as was found by the aforesaid verdict in manner and form aforesaid, was not felony and wilful murder, therefore it is decided that the aforesaid William Vaux, with respect to the aforesaid felony and murder specified above in the aforesaid indictment, and of the said felonious poisoning of the aforesaid Nicholas Ridley named in the same indictment, as charged against the same William, should go without day.]
[4. ][Ed.: by the whole Court,]
[5. ][Ed.: the aforesaid Nicholas, not knowing the aforesaid drink to be poisoned with venom, but trusting to the said persuasion of the said William, accepted and drank it, whereby, etc.]
[6. ][Ed.: poison aforesaid.]
[7. ][Ed.: namely, whereby the aforesaid Nicholas immediately after theacceptance ofthepoisonaforesaid, etc.]
[8. ][Ed.: because the accessory follows the principal;]
[9. ][Ed.: which note.]
[10. ][Ed.: previously acquitted.]
[11. ][Ed.: in lawful manner acquitted,]
[12. ][Ed.: that he be hanged by the neck,]
[13. ][Ed.: Misconduct ought not to remain unpunished, for impunity gives continuous encouragement to offenders and threatens the innocent who suffer harm:]