Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/483

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
469
DECLINE OF CRIMINAL JURISPRUDENCE.

of little consequence to the student, and of no interest to the teacher.

From the very beginning of his legal career the future lawyer is made to feel that the field of criminal law is not the one in which to exercise his best talents. Both the school curriculum and popular sentiment strengthen this prejudice. To the community at large our criminal courts have come to mean places where criminals are sentenced or rogues saved on technicalities; they have ceased to be centers of justice, where innocent men are saved and guilty men tried according to the law of the land. Hence has arisen the popular belief (despite the rule that the accused shall be considered innocent until his guilt is proved), shared in a measure by the bench and bar, that every man accused of crime is criminal and depraved, and that, therefore, contact with him should be avoided. Thus the criminal lawyer, who necessarily must come in touch with such alleged crime and depravity, is practically ostracized not only from the community but also from the civil forum.

The existence of such prejudice against the criminal bar is most deplorable. Men of ability and position will shun criminal practice, leaving the field clear to unscrupulous shysters. Let it be remembered that to a man charged with the commission of a crime and deprived of his liberty the lawyer appears a savior; that the accused is practically at his lawyer's mercy, being under most trying duress and very easily influenced. The temptation for unprofessional dealing is here at its highest, because of the manifest advantage of the lawyer who is able, or whom the client believes to be able, to unlock the prison doors. It takes men of more than ordinary fiber to persistently resist such temptation in all its forms. Hence the necessity of upright and learned men at the criminal bar. But how few are our great criminal practitioners! How often have I heard lawyers, too young and clientless to allow themselves preferences, declare most decidedly that they were willing to do anything "except criminal law"! They had been trained to look upon it not merely as inferior but as degrading practice. Yet it is common knowledge that in European countries, where less boast is made of inalienable rights, it is the ambition of all lawyers to get a reputation at the criminal bar. It is there, in fact, that reputations are made.

It is likewise in those countries where many would make us believe that life, liberty, and property are not as sacredly guarded as in our own country, that the criminal laws are a constant object of scholarly study and investigation. The great progress made in the study of crime, the building up of a criminal science and