The Trial of Czolgosz
To the Editor of The Philadelphia Medical Journal:
I have read with interest your two
editorials in the issue of your paper of October 5th; one on the
Czolgosz trial, and the other on Erskine’s defence of Hadfield.
Erskine is deserving of all your praise. Likewise, if the fact be
true that the counsel for Czolgosz believed him to be insane, and
so expressed themselves, and could have produced evidence tending
to show insanity, then your criticism of them is equally just and
your temperate comment fully justified.
I have not, myself, seen any published
statement of the belief of the prisoner’s counsel in his insanity.
From the high standing and character of those gentlemen I would
prefer to believe they had not made such statements, without indubitable
proof to sustain such a belief.
In every criminal trial the presumtion
[sic] of sanity, like that of innocence, stands until the
presumption is overcome by evidence. In the trial of Czolgosz there
was not a scintilla of evidence upon which to base an argument supporting
a theory of insanity. Upon the evidence adduced the verdict of guilty
was eminently proper and thoroughly just. So that from the trial
itself there was no ground for expressing such a belief as that
Drs. Allan McLane Hamilton, Carlos
T. MacDonald and others who, as alienists, examined the prisoner
with the view of ascertaining his mental condition, pronounced him
sane. Unless therefore the counsel for the prisoner had or knew
of alienists who had come to a contrary opinion, there was no medical
testimony on which to base such a view.
If the counsel had medical testimony
tending to prove sanity, and did not submit it to the jury, then
they were unfaithful to the court, the prisoner and their own oaths
as sworn officers of the court. I am sure that this cannot be true,
and would infer from the course of the trial that they were powerless
to procure such evidence. Under these circumstances they would have
no right to present their individual belief of insanity (if they
held such a belief) to the jury, and their conduct of the case would
be free from criticism for not doing so. The statement of their
belief would be inadmissible as evidence, and when unsupported by
testimony would be improper as part of the address to the jury.
Counsel have no right to address a jury upon views or matters not
presented in the evidence or fairly deducible therefrom.
Erskine had a client whose cause had
some merit; whose wounds received in his country’s service pleaded
for him; and, also, had evidence tending to prove insanity.
His eloquent plea on that ground was appropriate and based on proof.
There was neither merit nor evidence to sustain such an appeal in
the Czolgosz case.
The expression of an individual opinion
by counsel after the trial, relative to a belief in the prisoner’s
insanity, is a question which addresses itself to the forum of the
individual’s conscience and is not debatable as an incident of the
trial, and stands outside the pale of medical jurisprudence. The
propriety and good taste of such an expression of belief, is alone
for the individual. He has the undoubted right to utter it, or leave
it unsaid. If the report of the statement by counsel be true, I
agree with you that they “have rather spoiled a fine situation by
speaking as they did out of court.”
(Note by the Editor:—The statement,
after the trial, by the counsel for the assassain [sic] that
they believed him to be insane, was published by several newspapers.
We have never seen its authenticity denied, nor have we seen a denial
by the eminent counsel that they entertained this opinion. We shall
be only too happy to correct the statement, if it is spurious).