Source: Baltimore American
Source type: newspaper
Document type: article
Document title: “Legal Rights of Leon Czolgosz”
City of publication: Baltimore, Maryland
Date of publication: 23 September 1901
Volume number: 191
Issue number: 34821
|“Legal Rights of Leon Czolgosz.” Baltimore American 23 Sept. 1901 v191n34821: p. 3.|
|Leon Czolgosz (trial); Leon Czolgosz (trial: jury selection); Leon Czolgosz (indictment: compared with Lincoln conspirators indictment); Leon Czolgosz (trial: compared with Guiteau trial).|
|Samuel Bland Arnold; George Atzerodt; John Wilkes Booth; Clement C. Clay; William C. Cleary; Walter Cox; Leon Czolgosz; Jefferson Davis; James A. Garfield; Ulysses S. Grant; Charles J. Guiteau; George Harper; David Herold [misspelled below]; David Hunter; Andrew Johnson; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; Samuel A. Mudd; Michael O’Laughlen [misspelled below]; Lewis Powell [identified as Payne below]; George N. Sanders [misspelled below]; William H. Seward; Edman Spangler [first name wrong below]; John Surratt; Mary Surratt; Jacob Thompson [misspelled below]; Nathaniel Beverley Tucker [first name and middle initial wrong below]; George Young.|
Legal Rights of Leon Czolgosz
NEW YORK’S STATUTE COVERING HIS GREAT CRIME.
The Code of Criminal Procedure in New York Designed Not to Delay, but
to Insure the Administration of Absolute Justice without Prejudice or Partiality
—The Degrees of Insanity as Defined by the Law—The Prisoner Entitled to
the Benefit of Any Doubt Resting upon the Question of Sanity. The Question
of Jury Service—The Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators and of Guiteau.
Buffalo, N. Y., September 22.—A
careful study of the Code of Criminal Procedure of this state will convince
the average layman that the law is not designed to delay, but rather to insure
the administration of absolute justice without prejudice or partiality. In the
eyes of the law Leon Czolgosz is innocent until proved guilty, and to prove
him guilty it will be necessary to produce the proof in the same manner as in
an ordinary criminal trial.
As he is accused of a capital crime he cannot plead guilty if he wishes to, because the Code provides that “a conviction shall not be had upon a plea of guilty where the crime charged is or may be punishable by death.” In other words, a mere admission of guilt by the defendant is not enough, but it must be proved by evidence sufficient to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
Of course, only one plausible defense is open in this particular case, insanity; section 21 of the Penal Code defines the degree of insanity which excuses from criminal liability as follows: “That at the time of committing the alleged criminal act the defendant was laboring under such a defect of reason as either not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or not to know the act was wrong.”
This defense, the courts have held, is an affirmative issue which the defendant is bound to prove, but it has also been held that the prisoner is entitled to the benefit of any doubt resting upon the question of sanity. That is to say, after the defense has affirmatively shown that the defendant was insane to the extent prescribed by the statute, the prosecution will be required to rebut this proof and remove all doubt, an undertaking which the record of murder trials for the past few years has shown is not very difficult, as jurors have a habit of regarding this defense as a last desperate resort to escape deserved punishment. Indeed, it is safe to predict that when the drawing of the Czolgosz jury begins more men will be excused on account of their reluctance to accept insanity as a defense than for any other reason.
The popular impression that a man
who has read the newspapers and formed an opinion is disqualified to sit as
a juror is erroneous. Section 376 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which defines
the causes for challenges, says in part: “But the previous expression or formation
of an opinion or impression in reference to the guilt or innocence of the defendant
or a present opinion or impression in reference thereto is not sufficient ground
of challenge for actual bias to any person otherwise legally qualified if he
declare on oath that he believes that such opinion or impression will not influence
his verdict, and that he can render an impartial verdict according to the evidence,
and the court is satisfied that he does not entertain such a present opinion
or impression as would influence his verdict.” Thus it will be seen that a juror
has merely to declare that he will render an impartial verdict according to
the evidence, and any previous opinion he may have formed will not disqualify.
The latitude of examination allowed on challenges under this section is what
has led to the erroneous idea that men with opinions are not competent to sit
on a jury in a murder trial.
Prosecution and defense have each two kinds of challenges of individual jurors, viz., peremptory and for cause. The peremptory challenge is defined by section 372 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as “as objection to a juror for which no reason need be given, but upon which the court must exclude him.” Under this section the court has no discretion in excluding a juror, for it has been held “that it is the very essence of a peremptory challenge that it is one for which no reason need be given.” In a capital case 30 of these challenges are allowed.
In Event of Conviction.
In the event of conviction the court
may appoint the date of execution for a week beginning four weeks from the day
of the sentence. Immediately thereafter the court will transmit to the Governor
a statement of the conviction and sentence, with his own notes or the transcribed
notes of the stenographer, and if there is no appeal, and the Governor declines
to interfere, the sentence will be executed on the day in question. An appeal
will, of course, operate as a stay of execution, and in most murder cases in
this state the appeal is generally taken to lengthen the lease of life, if for
no other purpose.
Should such an appeal be taken in behalf of Czolgosz, it is not unlikely that the Court of Appeals would take the matter up as soon as the case was ready, but the preparation and printing might require several months, thus causing a delay which could not be avoided.
In capital cases the appeal must be taken direct to the Court of Appeals, and if that court is satisfied that the verdict was against the weight of evidence or against law, or that justice requires a new trial, it may so order, even if no exceptions are taken in the trial court. This provision regarding the absence of exceptions is, however, discretionary, for the courts have held that the accused person is not excused from complying with the settled rules of practice applicable to the trial of criminal cases, or exempted from the duty of presenting the usual and ordinary questions arising from the trial of the case in the form and manner previously pursued in the the trial of indictments. In other words, the omission to object to alleged erroneous proceedings deprives the defendant of the privilege of seeking the benefit of such errors as a matter of right, and simply remits him to an appeal to the discretionary powers of the Appellate Court.
The conspirators concerned in the
assassination of President Lincoln were tried by a military tribunal. The assassin
of President Garfield was tried in a federal court, and the trial of the assassin
of President McKinley in a state court will afford the people an idea of the
comparative celerity and efficacy of the three modes of trial.
The indictment of the Lincoln conspirators was a long and formal affair in comparison with which the Czolgosz indictment is a short and simple document. The text of the charges against the conspirators—David E. Harold, George A. Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, Michael O’Laughlin, John H. Surratt, Mary E. Surratt, Edward Spangler, Samuel Arnold and Samuel Mudd—is as follows:
Charge First—For maliciously and traitorously and unlawfully and in aid of the existing armed rebellion against the United States of America, on or before the 6th day of March, A. D., 1865, and on divers other days between that day and the 15th day of April, 1865, combining, confederating and conspiring together with one John H. Surratt, John Wilkes Booth, Jefferson Davis, George N. Saunders, Beverly T. Tucker, Jacob Thomson, William C. Cleary, Clement C. Clay, George Harper, George Young and others unknown, to kill and murder within the Military Department of Washington and within the fortified intrenched [sic] lines thereof Abraham Lincoln, and at the time of the said combining, confederating and conspiring, president of the United States of America and commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy thereof; Andrew Johnson, now vice president of the United States as aforesaid; William H. Seward, secretary of state of the United States as aforesaid; and U. S. Grant, lieutenant general of the Army of the United States aforesaid, then in command of the Army of the United States then under the direction of the said Abraham Lincoln, and in pursuance of and in prosecuting said malicious, unlawful and traitorous conspiracy aforesaid, and in aid of the said rebellion afterward, to wit: On the 14th day of April, 1865, within the Military Department at Washington aforesaid, and within the fortified and intrenched [sic] lines of said department, together with said John Wilkes Booth and John H. Surratt, maliciously, unlawfully and traitorously murdering the said Abraham Lincoln, said president of the United States and commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy of the United States as aforesaid, and maliciously, unlawfully and traitorously assaulting, with intent to kill and murder, the said William H. Seward, then secretary of state for the United States, as aforesaid, and lying in wait, with intent, maliciously and unlawfully and traitorously to kill and murder the said Andrew Johnson, then being vice president of the United States, and the said U. S. Grant, then being lieutenant general and in command of the armies of the United States, aforesaid.
The specifications which follow, replete with tautology, recite at great length each individual’s connection with the conspiracy. The charges were submitted to a military commission appointed May 6, 1865, of which Major General Hunter, United States Volunteers, was president. This commission reported its findings July 5, 1865, the sentences of the conspirators convicted were approved by the President on the same day, and they were executed two days later.
Guiteau’s Famous Trial.
In the trial of Guiteau, the assassin
of Garfield, in the federal court of the District of Columbia, there was a conflict
of jurisdiction. Guiteau’s attorney made the point that inasmuch as the New
Jersey authorities had put the president’s death legally on record in that state,
the effects of the shot fired by Guiteau in Washington must be proved, and if
any links in the chain were wanting, Guiteau could only be tried for assault
with intent to kill. It was asserted later that, as the shooting occurred in
the District of Columbia and the death in New Jersey, the crime was one of manslaughter,
as defined by Section 5341, United States Statutes at Large. This section read
Every person who within any of the places or upon any of the waters described in section 7339, unlawfully and wilfully [sic], but without malice, strikes, stabs, wounds, shoots or otherwise injures another, if from the striking, shooting or other injuries such other person dies either on land or within the United States, is guilty of the crime of manslaughter.
The court swept all these sophistries aside, and for the final fight the defense set up the contention that the prisoner was insane, and that the wound inflicted was not necessarily mortal, and was not the cause of President Garfield’s death. Little or no stress was placed on this last contention, counsel for the defense devoting their energies to establishing the prisoner’s insanity.
Judge Cox, in his charge to the jury, reviewed this phase of the question at great length, and in many respects this charge could be quoted with singular appropriateness at the trial of Czolgosz. Speaking of Guiteau’s alleged inspiration, Judge Cox said:
“A man may reason himself into a conviction of the expediency and patriotic character of political assassination, but to allow him to find shelter from punishment behind that belief, as an insane delusion, would be simply monstrous. If you find that he had possession of his faculties and the power to know that his act was wrong, and of his own free will deliberately conceived, planned and executed this homicide, then, whether his motive was personal vindictiveness, or political animosity, or a desire to avenge a supposed political wrong, or a morbid desire for notoriety, or fanciful ideas of patriotism, or of the Divine will, or if you are able to discover any motive at all, the act is simply murder, and it is your duty to find him guilty.”
The trial of Guiteau began November 7, 1881, and was finished January 25, 1882.