Source: Philadelphia Medical Journal
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Trial of the Assassin”
Date of publication: 5 October 1901
Volume number: 8
Issue number: 14
|“The Trial of the Assassin.” Philadelphia Medical Journal 5 Oct. 1901 v8n14: p. 539.|
|Leon Czolgosz (trial: personal response); Leon Czolgosz (trial: compared with Hadfield trial); Leon Czolgosz (legal defense); Leon Czolgosz (mental health).|
|Leon Czolgosz; Thomas Erskine; Charles J. Guiteau; James Hadfield.|
|Click here to view an editorial from a subsequent issue of Philadelphia Medical Journal correcting information reported below.|
The Trial of the Assassin
In his celebrated defence of Hadfield, for shooting
at the King, Lord Erskine said: “The scene which we are engaged in exhibits
to the whole civilized world a perpetual monument of our national justice. The
transaction, indeed, in every part of it as it stands recorded in the evidence,
places our country upon the highest pinnacle of human elevation.” These words
of the greatest of forensic orators have not lost their significance after the
lapse of a hundred years and in the midst of a different and distant phase of
Anglo-Saxon civilization. Erskine spoke for the supremacy of English law as
against the turbulance [sic] of popular passion, and his language applies with
great force and precision to the sovereignty of American law as it has just
revealed itself in the trial of the assassin of the President.
From the medico-legal standpoint, however, it cannot be said that the trial of Czolgosz equals in interest and importance the trial of Hadfield. In fact it can hardly be claimed that the case of the President’s assassin had any medico-legal aspect, whatever. If it had any such aspect, this was most successfully kept out of public view in court. The trial of the case, which from the purely legal standpoint was, we should judge, perfect in its form and setting, was on the other hand singularly barren and uninstructive for all the purposes of medical jurisprudence. This can hardly be because the case was really lacking in all elements of medico-legal interest, for the eminent counsel for the defence had no sooner come from the trial than they both announced in the public press their belief that their client was insane. We are therefore privileged to wonder why they were so reticent on the subject when the case was still before the jury.
From this point of view we venture to predict that this case will always be looked upon as somewhat of an anomaly. It is certainly without precedent in this country for counsel for a prisoner to entertain a firm belief in that prisoner’s insanity, and yet to put no witness on the stand in support of that belief. In fact this trial was marked by rather an apologetic attitude on the part of the learned counsel for the defence, which was hardly in keeping with the traditions of the bar. It was Erskine’s boast, in the case of Hadfield, that it was his privilege to defend the accused, who was “covered all over with the armor of the law.” He based that defence on the prisoner’s insanity, but he did not wait to proclaim his belief in that insanity until after the close of the trial. We speak simply in the interests of medical jurisprudence, and we cannot help but feel that the learned counsel have rather spoiled a fine situation by speaking as they did out of court.
As to the prisoner’s mental state, we do not presume to raise a doubt other than that raised by his own lawyers. The experts who examined the accused were not put on the stand, and the inference is that either they were not wanted or that they had nothing to say.
The trial of the case was dignified, solemn and expeditious. The American public is to be congratulated that there was no repetition of the scenes that disgraced the trial of Guiteau. The medical profession, on the whole, is perhaps just as well satisfied that its services were not required in the prisoner’s behalf.