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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/807

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LIQUOR LEGISLATION.

LIQUOR LEGISLATION
By GORHAM D. WILLIAMS.

DURING the past eight years as a magistrate with criminal jurisdiction in a town of about four thousand inhabitants, in Western Massachusetts, I have disposed of about five hundred cases of drunkenness, and numerous cases of common drunkards, brought before me on complaint. The proceedings have not been mere routine, as, of necessity, they usually are in such cases in the large cities, where the judge sits back in his chair until the list of the morning's "drunks" has been finished by the clerk, who calls name after name, with the formula, "John Smith, you are complained of for being drunk yesterday. What do you say to this complaint, are you guilty or not guilty? You are sentenced to pay a fine of one dollar and costs, and to stand committed to the House of Industry for ten days, or till the same is paid"; and who begins to write the memorandum of the sentence as soon as he calls the name, and scarcely pauses for the plea of guilty. In the cases coming before me I usually have from the officer making the arrest some description of the circumstances under which it has been made, while in the cases of common drunkards I usually know something of the history of the defendant. In cases of simple drunkenness, the law being the same, I usually end with a sentence like that given above, though occasionally I adjourn a case for sentence, and give the defendant a chance to raise or earn the money, and pay the fine on a subsequent day. The case of a common drunkard is not so easy to dispose of, for, in the first place, he is liable to a severer punishment, then he is usually a resident of the town, I know all about him and his family, if he has one, and there is a sort of an acquaintance between us on account of his having been before me on numerous occasions for simple drunkenness. Moreover, he has just been on a spree, and is in a condition of reaction, confident that he will never desire to drink intoxicating liquor again, and full of good resolutions. All this leads to an appeal for a chance to show that he is a reformed man, to promises that he will never give occasion to be arrested again, and to offers to take the pledge, and usually ends with the sentence being postponed for a week or two—then for a month, and then indefinitely, after which he is arrested a number of times for drunkenness, and, the patience of officers and magistrate becoming worn out, the complaint for being a common drunkard is revived, he is sentenced and appeals, counsel is employed, and his case drags along in the superior court.

The law as to drunkenness and common drunkards, as it now stands, can not be administered with any satisfaction. The imposition of a fine in such cases is a punishment whose burden, if the fine is paid, is