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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/779

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FORMS AND FAILURES OF THE LAW.

her presence at the trial, while the miscreant who assailed her, being widely known among politicians and saloon habitu├ęs, remains at large on bail! Such proceedings subvert or discourage justice, but a reform involves so much disturbance of conservatism that a quarter of a century may elapse before it is favored by lawyers.

Abuses in the examination of witnesses often crop out, which tend to discourage litigation and interfere with justice. A lawyer with a bad case, but ambitious to maintain or make a reputation, is quite certain to make the cross-examination of witnesses a terror to any person whom browbeating or insults can throw off his balance. Judges might reform this, but, as in most other law proceedings, the attorney is allowed a latitude out of all reason. A favorite way to confuse a witness is to insist on categorical answers to questions ingeniously framed to reflect on his consistency, and, when any attempt is made at explanation or qualification, to suppress it by bullying and threats. Any man of much observation knows that "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," can not be always told by answering "yes" or "no," and for this reason witnesses have a moral right to explain or qualify; but the average lawyer has no regard for that, if a qualified answer is likely to injure his case. The truth is often the last thing he wants, and if he can confuse, or worry, or bully the witness so as to throw doubts on his testimony, it harmonizes with his ideas of "the ends of justice." The courts are censurable for allowing this abuse, and it is a pity that there is no appellate or impeachment court to take special cognizance of such offenses, and to punish both judge and lawyer when such outrages are consummated. In other cases the character of respectable witnesses is outrageously attacked in summing up, and trifling, youthful, almost forgotten indiscretions magnified out of all proportion to their importance in order to throw discredit on testimony which can not otherwise be assailed.

It need not be said that crime is rarefy punished in proportion to its seriousness, nor that this matter is almost invariably governed by the amount of capital controlled by the criminal for defense. And yet the legal profession, which on occasion has so much to say of its services and its high character, never treats this as a reproach. Probably not one lawyer in a thousand thinks it disreputable to defend the most infamous swindler, defaulter, or bank-robber for pay, thus sharing with him in the avails of his robberies. The well-known fact that the late William M. Tweed was a robber on a colossal scale did not deter "eminent counsel" from defending him persistently until, owing to some informality, his release was ordered by the highest State court. Nobody questioned his guilt, but the conditions of the law are such that an error which did not affect the question of guilt at all was enough to set aside years of costly litigation, and to liberate a smooth mannered villain whose incarceration for the rest of his worthless life