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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/775

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FORMS AND FAILURES OF THE LAW.

a system of deciding law questions speedily and cheaply it might lead to a greater volume of business, promote the ends of justice far better, and elevate the profession immeasurably in public esteem. Even if the reforms would dispense with one half or two thirds of all the lawyers, and who may be said to be non-producers of public wealth, it would not be a reform that really high-minded and conscientious lawyers need regret. A country like ours should not tolerate any parasitic classes; and, once rid of all the useless lawyers, the reform would make some other classes useful whose presence now is detrimental to the public good.

Let us look at some of the changes for which public sentiment seems ready, and which would certainly be inaugurated soon, if a liberal-minded bench and the more honorable members of the bar were to sanction them. They are noted here, not so much in the order of their importance, as in the order in which they come to mind.

First, the jury system. There is wide-spread dissatisfaction with it, especially as to capital cases, or where heavy punishment is involved. In important civil cases where great interests are at stake, it is also regarded very much as a failure, leading nearly as often to the miscarriage of justice as otherwise. The traditions that require unanimous verdicts are antiquated and unworthy of serious consideration. Why should twelve men, totally untrained in the examination of legal questions or evidence, be expected to agree, in the face of a mass of contradictory evidence, and after listening for hours, or even days and weeks, to the arguments of counsel skilled in making the worse appear the better reasoning, and without a scrap of written or printed testimony before them? Two witnesses to the same transaction can rarely agree as to details, and yet a jury of twelve men, some of them very ignorant, are required to agree, or else the case, in all its dreary length and breadth, must be tried again before twelve other men equally unfit, or be abandoned. If they do not agree on the first ballot, they are kept in confinement until the strongest-willed can conquer the rest, or until their natural desire for a discharge impels them to agree, whether the verdict represents their real convictions or not. It is right that, in capital cases at least, there should be a heavy preponderance, but to require unanimity is absurd, and often defeats justice. If eight or nine men out of twelve can agree that a prisoner is guilty, it should be sufficient, especially while all the chances for appeals and pardons remain. Were the verdict a finality, it would be different; but no convicted murderer with money at his command ever thinks of submitting at once to an adverse verdict. The criminal laws seem specially contrived to shield notorious villains from swift punishment; and the "able counsel," no matter what his case, keeps up the fight until every resource for delay or escape is exhausted.