Terry, David S.

Terry’s death during an assault on a Supreme Court justice resulted in a Court ruling regarding immunity for federal officials who violate state laws while performing their duties.

Terry opened a law office in Stockton, California, in 1849. A member of the Know-Nothing Party, Terry was elected to the state supreme court in 1855. Two years later he became chief justice, a position he held until 1859. Terry was popular and capable, but he possessed a violent temper and a southerner’s sense of honor. A verbal battle between Terry and Senator David Broderick led to an 1859 duel in which Broderick died.

David S. Terry

(Library of Congress)

Terry’s undoing took place in 1888. His second wife, Sarah Althea Hill, was involved in a bitter legal battle with her ex-husband, Nevada senator William Sharon. Acting in his capacity as circuit judge, Stephen J. Field,Field, Stepehn J. an associate justice on the Supreme Court, rendered a decision unfavorable to Terry’s wife, who exploded in anger. Terry then pulled a knife in the courtroom, for which he was imprisoned for six months. Terry vowed revenge, and in August, 1889, he attacked Field. Federal Marshal David Neagle shot and killed Terry. In the ensuing case, In re Neagle[case]Neagle, In re[Neagle, In re] (1890), the Court determined that Neagle was immune from California homicide laws.

Circuit courts of appeals

Field, Stephen J.