Source: Sunday Oregonian
Source type: newspaper
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Law and the Penalty”
City of publication: Portland, Oregon
Date of publication: 9 March 1902
Volume number: 21
Issue number: 10
|“The Law and the Penalty.” Sunday Oregonian 9 Mar. 1902 v21n10: part 1, p. 4.|
|presidential assassination (laws against); presidents (protection); Leon Czolgosz (trial: comparison); Leon Czolgosz (trial: personal response); society (criticism).|
|John Wilkes Booth; Leon Czolgosz; William H. Dalton; Charles J. Guiteau; William McKinley; Loyal Bryson Montgomery; John Wade.|
The Law and the Penalty
Laws especially made to protect
the President of the United States from assassination are not likely to come
to anything, practically for the reason that the mental and moral degeneracy
which prompts crimes of this sort is not subject to restraint through fear of
penalties. Neither Czolgosz nor Guiteau cared what might follow his act, and
probably Booth was equally regardless of consequences. What was done by these
wild beasts would have been done under any and all circumstances of the law.
The threat of fire and brimstone would not have held them back. Every sovereign,
the President of the United States with the rest, is in the very nature of things
exposed to a special hazard as to his life. And equally in the nature of things
it is impossible to devise means of certain protection. The best that can be
done for the President is to enforce the general police regulations, which guarantee
the safety of every citizen, and to so simplify and expedite the proceedings
of courts as to make the operations of justice certain and swift. This will
do more to suppress the spirit which now and again flames out in atrocious crimes
like the assassination of McKinley than any possible system of especially designed
laws. Indeed, it may be questioned, if such special provision for the protection
of the President might not operate to put evil suggestions into minds of a disordered
and malignant type.
The looseness of our criminal procedure, its scandalous delays and its flaring publicity are responsible for widespread demoralization in connection with certain infirm types of mind. The Durrant case in San Francisco, for example, became the inspiration of a half score of murders, among them the hideous crime of young Montgomery near Brownsville, in this state. The trial of Guiteau, which it will be remembered was highly sensational in many of its features, long drawn out under the District of Columbia procedure, and published in its details broadcast over the country, was responsible for an epidemic of murders and criminal attempts. In fine contrast, the trial of the assassin of McKinley was merely a thing of a day or two, with no development of useless and sensational testimony, no protraction under proceedings of appeal, and the least possible exploitation through the newspapers. Its promptness and the quietness with which it was accomplished were matters of fine moral effect. There was no opportunity for the assassin to pose before the country, no excitation for morbid minds, and there followed no train of crimes owing their inception to influences set in motion by it. Similarly the promptness of the recent Wade and Dalton trials in Multnomah County, and the prompt execution which followed them, have done much to clear the atmosphere and to repress criminal impulse.
If in every similar case the same swift and resolute justice could be enforced, it would do wonders in the prevention of crime by making the very thought of it terrible. And it might easily be done if the legal profession would undertake the reform of our criminal procedure. First and foremost there ought to be reform in the laws which enable a criminal to make a protracted “fight” in the courts, and so delay the ends of justice even where he may not defeat it. The fact that a man with money or a man with “friends” can hold back the execution of the law is a scandal of the most demoralizing kind. It is to the discredit of those who make our laws, and of the legal profession as well, that even in matters involving life and death we have one system of procedure for the rich criminal, and another for the poor. If Wade and Dalton, confessedly guilty as they were, had had money to pay for appeals following upon appeals, who can doubt that while probably they would not have been able in the end to escape justice, they would be alive today? The chief means of delay are the facilities which our system affords for appeals upon technical and even trivial pretexts. English law affords no such protection to guilt, and it is a shame upon us that the same may not be said of American law.
It is not, we repeat, in special laws that the best security for the President of the United States is to be found, but in a generally better adjustment of the procedure of trial and punishment, operating not alone in relation to the President, but to all citizens as well. Who can doubt that if in every case the penalty were made to follow instantly upon the crime, if there were no ways by which money or influence could delay and balk justice, if the procedure were so speedy and direct as to make impossible all forms of posing, not alone the President, but every other citizen, would be more secure than under conditions as we have them?