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Legal Precedents And History

Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Addresses Legal Precedents

Brien Roche

Legal Precedents

Legal precedents are decisions by an appellate court that create binding law on lower courts.

In July of 1839 a ship full of 53 African slaves known as the La Amistad was wracked with rebellion. The slaves revolted and killed the ship’s captain and two crewmen. The slaves did not know how to navigate the ship. As a result the surviving crew very cleverly sailed them around in circles. Finally they landed at Long Island outside the city of New York. Thereafter the ship was taken to New London, Connecticut. At that point there arose dispute as to whether or not the slaves were owned by the Cuban slave traders or by the US ship known as the Washington. This was the ship that had found them on Long Island. Or were they simply free men.

Cinque

The leader of the slaves was a charismatic individual by the name of Cinque. All of the slaves were from Sierra Leone. The case was eventually tried in front of a federal judge. He ruled that the Africans were in fact free and should be returned to their homeland.

The US Appeals

However the U.S. Government chose to appeal that decision. The Africans were represented at the trial court level and also on appeal by an attorney by the name of Roger Baldwin. In addition John Quincy Adams, the former President and son of another President, represented the Africans on appeal. On March 9, 1841 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and ruled that the Africans had been kidnapped. Therefore they were freed and returned to their homeland.

Unfortunately when Cinque returned to his homeland, he learned that his wife and children who had been left behind had been killed in his absence.

For more information on precedents see the other pages on this site.

Federal Courts Establishing Legal Precedents

On March 25, 1931 ten Scottsboro Boys acquired fame not so much because of their conduct but because of where they were on that day.  Several teenage boys, both black and white and two white girls boarded a train from Chattanooga to Memphis.  During the ride a fight broke out. Many of the white boys were tossed from the train.  It is unknown as to whether this event was due to the superior number of black boys or the superior strength of the black boys.  The black boys remained on the train. Thereafter they were arrested by a posse in Alabama.  They were taken to Scottsboro, Alabama.  Because of resulting civil unrest, the National Guard was dispatched.

On March 30 an all-white jury indicted nine of the boys for gang rape.

Speedy Trials

Complying with the “speedy trial” procedure of Alabama, at least insofar as it applied to some people, two ill-equipped attorneys were appointed to represent Clarence Norris and Charles Weems.  Neither attorney was competent to handle a capital case.  The first trial lasted a day and a half. It resulted in conviction.  There were subsequent trials that followed promptly. Each of them took less time and all resulting in convictions and death sentences.

On November 7, 1932, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the convictions relying upon the 14th Amendment.  This is one of the first times that the 14th Amendment had been applied to state behavior based upon ineffective assistance of counsel. 

New Defense Team

On retrial, two of the young men were represented by a highly skilled New York criminal defense lawyer by the name of Samuel Leibowitz.  One of his arguments on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was that the grand jury that indicted these young men had systematically excluded black people. Indeed the names of the blacks on the grand jury rolls had been forged in order to cover tracks. 

Jury Tampering

The Supreme Court asked for proof.  Leibowitz provided it.  The Supreme Court justices reviewed the jury rolls and concluded on their own that indeed they were forgeries.  Therefore the Court reversed the convictions.

This is another example of state action being countered by federal action.

For more information on legal precedents see other pages on this site including the book authored by Brien Roche entitled Law 101.
Call, or contact us for a free consult.

Legal Precedents and Landmark Decisions

There are a number of landmark decisions that over the last 150 years have been reported by various courts. These legal decisions serve an instructional purpose by teaching fundamental legal principles. Also some of them create legal precedents.

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony was convicted for registering to vote in 1872. She maintained under the 14th Amendment she had the right to vote. Women at that point had not been given the explicit right to vote. Subsequently she was arrested for registering to vote. At her criminal trial, the trial judge directed the jury to find her guilty. On appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that a trial court may not direct a guilty verdict in a criminal trial. That rather is the province of the jury.

Anthony was successful in persuading President Grant at that time to pardon the inspectors who had allowed her to register to vote. However she was unable to convince Congress that the fine against her should be dismissed. In spite of that she never paid the fine. Call, or contact us for a free consult.

Brown v. Board of Education

The famous decision of Brown v. Board of Education was not only significant for its result but it was also significant because of the evidence that was used at trial. Two educational psychologists performed sociological testing to show there was harm suffered by children in segregated schools. The trial court admitted that evidence and that further supported the eventual conclusion of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decision was unanimous.

For more information on precedents see the pages on Wikipedia.

Legal History-Famous Defamation Trial

A famous and perhaps the first defamation trial to occur in this country involved John Zenger. Zenger was a former indentured servant who was born in Germany. He began printing a publication known as the New York Weekly Journal in 1773.  Many of his articles were pointed at the royal governor by the name of William Cosby. Cosby was a former gambler and soldier with royal connections. He had acquired a reputation for being corrupt.

First Amendment

Cosby eventually had Zenger arrested and charged with libel. Libel or defamation at that time included any criticism of the government whether or not it was true. The jury pool was hand-picked with selected supporters of the Governor. Zenger’s attorney, a Philadelphia lawyer by the name of Andrew Hamilton, argued that the prejudiced jurors should be stricken. He prevailed on that. Hamilton admitted that his client had printed the offending remarks. Hamilton’s defense was based on the fact that the words themselves were not false or scandalous.

The jury after hearing all of the evidence deliberated only for minutes and returned a verdict of not guilty in favor of Zenger.  Jurors apparently accepted Hamilton’s argument. The statements were not false. This trial laid the foundation for what became known as the First Amendment, ensuring freedom of speech and freedom the press.

Legal History

Freedom Calls Frederick Douglass

Freedom calls for Frederick Douglass. Douglas began his quest for freedom on a train that pulled out of Baltimore, Maryland. He jumped on a rail car designated for blacks. His name, according to his papers, was Frederick Bailey. The papers belonged to a real sailor who had been freed. He boarded the train without a ticket. Maryland at that point was a slave state as was the neighboring state of Delaware.

The Train Ride

Prior to his train ride for freedom, Douglass had learned how to read and write. He had taught himself. He had been viewed by his master as a valuable commodity. Also he was a dangerous commodity. He had been working at the Baltimore shipyards. While there he had learned the language and the manner of the sailors that surrounded him.

When the train conductor finally approached him, he announced that he had a paper with the American eagle on it and that eagle could carry him around the world. The conductor glanced at the papers and then moved on, believing that Douglas was probably a sailor.

The train took Bailey to Havre de Grace where he caught a ferry across the Susquehanna River and then a train to Wilmington, Delaware. Thereafter he took a steamboat to Philadelphia and then caught another train to New York City. All of this in September 1838.

From that beginning, Douglass went on to become an author, lecturer and advocate for the abolition of slavery. Call, or contact us for a free consult.

Boss Tweed Of New York

We have all heard of Tammany Hall.  It is the so-called meeting place of the famously corrupt head of the New York City Democratic Party.  His full name was William Magear “Boss” Tweed.  Tweed served one term in the U.S. Congress. However he became much more powerful as the head of the Tammany Society. This group had almost unlimited control over political patronage throughout the state of New York. 

The Tammany Irish

Tweed’s source of power was principally the Irish immigrants who flooded into New York.  Eventually Tweed was arrested.  During his first jury trial, the jury failed to reach a verdict.  It was believed that the jury had been rigged.  However in a second trial that was better controlled by prosecutors, he was convicted of 204 counts.  His 12-year prison sentence was eventually reduced to one year.  He was thereafter sued by the state for $6 million and was confined to debtor’s prison.  While he was in prison, he was allowed out in the afternoons for a walk in Central Park.  Finally in December of 1875 Boss Tweed disappeared.  He escaped to Cuba.  From there he fled to Spain.  However he was eventually returned to New York, where he agreed to testify against fellow conspirators.  He died in 1878, still imprisoned in the Ludlow Street Jail.

Attorney For The Damned

The famous trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow was the subject of more than one state inquiry because of the courage he displayed in representing unpopular defendants in criminal cases. In one case where union members were charged with murder related to a labor dispute, Darrow was charged with jury tampering. This was based upon the conduct of an investigator that he had hired. The prosecutors in that case installed a listening device in Darrow’s hotel room. That resulted in no info relating to the jury tampering. Indeed from the posture of the case, it appeared that Darrow had no motive to bribe jurors. Prior to the trial he had worked out a plea bargain to spare the workers from the death penalty. Instead they would receive lengthy prison terms. As a result, there never was a trial. As to both criminal charges against him, he was never found guilty.

Some Missteps By Darrow

In a book entitled Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, the author John Farrell puts a more human face on Darrow. He discusses some of his potential missteps. 

Darrow was accused in two different instances of bribing jurors.  Each of those cases went to trial.  In the first of those cases Darrow gave his own closing argument. He did what he was known for doing in many other cases. He put the entire justice system on trial in the case.  In that particular case he was found not guilty.

In the second trial involving similar allegations the jury came back with a hung verdict of 8-4 for conviction.  Darrow was not retried. However he never did fully recover from the anguish of these trials. 

As is so often the case, this very flawed man accomplished many good things.

The Glove Did Fit

In one of the trials of the century involving O.J. Simpson, he was asked for some reason, to put on the supposed glove used by the murderer. The glove did not fit. The prosecutor thought the glove did fit.

His defense counsel, Johnnie Cochran, subsequently argued to the jury that since the glove did not fit they must acquit.

Darden’s Excuse

One of the prosecutors involved in the trial, Christopher Darden, who clearly was outmatched by the defense counsel in the case claimed that he believed that Johnnie Cochran tore the lining of the glove. This would prevent Simpson’s fingers from going all the way into the glove.

When challenged as to why he did not raise that at the time of the trial Darden had no good explanation. However he admitted he did not have any actual facts to back up his assertion. 

Darden was criticized for even allowing this courtroom demonstration. He did not know ahead of time whether or not the glove would fit. Most trial lawyers know all too well that courtroom demonstrations are dangerous. If you do not know the outcome ahead of time probably best to pass.  Call, or contact us for a free consult.

Top Legal Novels

The Ox-Bow Incident published in 1940 was the study of the lynching of three innocent men in a western town.  The author’s view of mob justice is generally now viewed as being a work of genius.

Native Son

Native Son by Richard Wright was also published in 1940.  The main character in this novel is Bigger Thomas, a young Chicago black man whose discomfort with white people drives him into increasingly deeper trouble.  He is eventually condemned to death for two murders.  The novel is based on the case of Robert Nixon, who was executed for murder in 1938. 

Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was published in 1850.  Although technically not a legal book, it involved the honor of a fallen woman by the name of Hester Prynne. She had an affair with the pastor of her puritan church.  Hester survived the indignity of wearing the scarlet A. She insisted on thereafter making substantial contributions to her community.

Billy Budd

Billy Budd by Herman Melville was published in 1924.  Budd was a model sailor on a British warship.  He was falsely accused by the ship’s second-in-command of mutiny.  Budd struck the accuser with such force as to kill him. Thereafter he was tried for murder by the Captain and found guilty and hung.  The book deals with the rule of law over the sense of justice.

Les Miserables and Trial

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is a tale of justice about a peasant condemned to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. 

The Trial by Franz Kafka written in 1925 is a tale of a trial where the accuser and the accusations are both unspecified.  As such there can be no justice.

Bleak

Bleak House by Charles Dickens published in 1852 involves a murder where Lady Dedlock is suspected.  In the novel Dickens gives an ongoing account of another case involving estate issues that drags on from generation to generation until the money runs out.

Crime and Mockingbird

In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky deals with a man who has murdered an elderly pawnbroker. This was part of a premeditated murder-robbery. He also kills the pawnbroker’s sister.  The accused subsequently finds himself unable to bear the psychological burden of his guilt.

The ultimate classic is of course To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee published in 1960.  The lawyer, Atticus Finch, loses his biggest case but cites the memorable line, “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Legal Drama of Note

Trials

One of the early ones was “THE MERCHANT OF VENICE”. Portia dressed as a doctor of laws attempts to prevent Shylock from getting his “pound of flesh” from her husband’s friend Antonio.  Portia pleaded that the “quality of mercy is not strain’d”. Also she argued that Shylock could have his pound of flesh but if any harm came to Antonio because of Shylock’s extraction of his pound of flesh then Shylock stood to forfeit his entire fortune and perhaps even his life.

One of the more famous plays is “TWELVE ANGRY MEN”. It is a series of interesting observations on the role of race and class in the judicial system. It touches on the role of circumstantial evidence. In addition it addresses the issue of how a person’s history determines the quality of justice.

Evolution

In “INHERIT THE WIND” a Tennessee teacher was put on trial for teaching evolution.  The case was made famous by H.L. Mencken who reported on the confrontation between Darrow and William Jennings Bryan. Clarence Darrow undertook the defense of the teacher who was discussing evolution. Also they both acquired national and international fame in this Scopes trial. 

Momentous Trials

In “JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG” a well thought of state judge from the United States was called upon to preside over a trial of Ernst Janning. Janning was German judge who had gone from being a principled jurist to a Nazi hack. 

In “ANATOMY OF A MURDER” the author recounts his defense of a young murder suspect accused of killing a man who had raped his wife. 

The criminal trial of Adolf Eichmann was the basis for the play known as “THE MAN IN THE GLASS BOOTH”.  Here a wealthy New York developer was accused of being an infamous Nazi war criminal.  As the play develops, it becomes questionable as to whether or not the accused is in fact actually a survivor from one of the camps. 

Seasons and Typhoons

Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII’s friend and chancellor became “A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS”. He refused to sign an oath denying the Catholic Church when Henry sought to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Henry wanted to marry Anne Boleyn.  More was executed for his act of faith. 

The CAINE MUTINY portrayed the removal of Commander Queeg from the USS Caine during a typhoon. 

Also for more information about legal drama see the pages on Wikipedia.

Call, or contact us for a free consult. For more information on the law see Brien Roche’s book Law 101 and for information on legal history see the pages on on that topic.

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Contact Us For A Free Consultation

Legal Precedents And History

Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Addresses Legal Precedents

Brien Roche

Legal Precedents

Legal precedents are decisions by an appellate court that create binding law on lower courts.

In July of 1839 a ship full of 53 African slaves known as the La Amistad was wracked with rebellion. The slaves revolted and killed the ship’s captain and two crewmen. The slaves did not know how to navigate the ship. As a result the surviving crew very cleverly sailed them around in circles. Finally they landed at Long Island outside the city of New York. Thereafter the ship was taken to New London, Connecticut. At that point there arose dispute as to whether or not the slaves were owned by the Cuban slave traders or by the US ship known as the Washington. This was the ship that had found them on Long Island. Or were they simply free men.

Cinque

The leader of the slaves was a charismatic individual by the name of Cinque. All of the slaves were from Sierra Leone. The case was eventually tried in front of a federal judge. He ruled that the Africans were in fact free and should be returned to their homeland.

The US Appeals

However the U.S. Government chose to appeal that decision. The Africans were represented at the trial court level and also on appeal by an attorney by the name of Roger Baldwin. In addition John Quincy Adams, the former President and son of another President, represented the Africans on appeal. On March 9, 1841 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and ruled that the Africans had been kidnapped. Therefore they were freed and returned to their homeland.

Unfortunately when Cinque returned to his homeland, he learned that his wife and children who had been left behind had been killed in his absence.

For more information on precedents see the other pages on this site.

Federal Courts Establishing Legal Precedents

On March 25, 1931 ten Scottsboro Boys acquired fame not so much because of their conduct but because of where they were on that day.  Several teenage boys, both black and white and two white girls boarded a train from Chattanooga to Memphis.  During the ride a fight broke out. Many of the white boys were tossed from the train.  It is unknown as to whether this event was due to the superior number of black boys or the superior strength of the black boys.  The black boys remained on the train. Thereafter they were arrested by a posse in Alabama.  They were taken to Scottsboro, Alabama.  Because of resulting civil unrest, the National Guard was dispatched.

On March 30 an all-white jury indicted nine of the boys for gang rape.

Speedy Trials

Complying with the “speedy trial” procedure of Alabama, at least insofar as it applied to some people, two ill-equipped attorneys were appointed to represent Clarence Norris and Charles Weems.  Neither attorney was competent to handle a capital case.  The first trial lasted a day and a half. It resulted in conviction.  There were subsequent trials that followed promptly. Each of them took less time and all resulting in convictions and death sentences.

On November 7, 1932, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the convictions relying upon the 14th Amendment.  This is one of the first times that the 14th Amendment had been applied to state behavior based upon ineffective assistance of counsel. 

New Defense Team

On retrial, two of the young men were represented by a highly skilled New York criminal defense lawyer by the name of Samuel Leibowitz.  One of his arguments on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was that the grand jury that indicted these young men had systematically excluded black people. Indeed the names of the blacks on the grand jury rolls had been forged in order to cover tracks. 

Jury Tampering

The Supreme Court asked for proof.  Leibowitz provided it.  The Supreme Court justices reviewed the jury rolls and concluded on their own that indeed they were forgeries.  Therefore the Court reversed the convictions.

This is another example of state action being countered by federal action.

For more information on legal precedents see other pages on this site including the book authored by Brien Roche entitled Law 101.
Call, or contact us for a free consult.

Legal Precedents and Landmark Decisions

There are a number of landmark decisions that over the last 150 years have been reported by various courts. These legal decisions serve an instructional purpose by teaching fundamental legal principles. Also some of them create legal precedents.

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony was convicted for registering to vote in 1872. She maintained under the 14th Amendment she had the right to vote. Women at that point had not been given the explicit right to vote. Subsequently she was arrested for registering to vote. At her criminal trial, the trial judge directed the jury to find her guilty. On appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that a trial court may not direct a guilty verdict in a criminal trial. That rather is the province of the jury.

Anthony was successful in persuading President Grant at that time to pardon the inspectors who had allowed her to register to vote. However she was unable to convince Congress that the fine against her should be dismissed. In spite of that she never paid the fine. Call, or contact us for a free consult.

Brown v. Board of Education

The famous decision of Brown v. Board of Education was not only significant for its result but it was also significant because of the evidence that was used at trial. Two educational psychologists performed sociological testing to show there was harm suffered by children in segregated schools. The trial court admitted that evidence and that further supported the eventual conclusion of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decision was unanimous.

For more information on precedents see the pages on Wikipedia.

Legal History-Famous Defamation Trial

A famous and perhaps the first defamation trial to occur in this country involved John Zenger. Zenger was a former indentured servant who was born in Germany. He began printing a publication known as the New York Weekly Journal in 1773.  Many of his articles were pointed at the royal governor by the name of William Cosby. Cosby was a former gambler and soldier with royal connections. He had acquired a reputation for being corrupt.

First Amendment

Cosby eventually had Zenger arrested and charged with libel. Libel or defamation at that time included any criticism of the government whether or not it was true. The jury pool was hand-picked with selected supporters of the Governor. Zenger’s attorney, a Philadelphia lawyer by the name of Andrew Hamilton, argued that the prejudiced jurors should be stricken. He prevailed on that. Hamilton admitted that his client had printed the offending remarks. Hamilton’s defense was based on the fact that the words themselves were not false or scandalous.

The jury after hearing all of the evidence deliberated only for minutes and returned a verdict of not guilty in favor of Zenger.  Jurors apparently accepted Hamilton’s argument. The statements were not false. This trial laid the foundation for what became known as the First Amendment, ensuring freedom of speech and freedom the press.

Legal History

Freedom Calls Frederick Douglass

Freedom calls for Frederick Douglass. Douglas began his quest for freedom on a train that pulled out of Baltimore, Maryland. He jumped on a rail car designated for blacks. His name, according to his papers, was Frederick Bailey. The papers belonged to a real sailor who had been freed. He boarded the train without a ticket. Maryland at that point was a slave state as was the neighboring state of Delaware.

The Train Ride

Prior to his train ride for freedom, Douglass had learned how to read and write. He had taught himself. He had been viewed by his master as a valuable commodity. Also he was a dangerous commodity. He had been working at the Baltimore shipyards. While there he had learned the language and the manner of the sailors that surrounded him.

When the train conductor finally approached him, he announced that he had a paper with the American eagle on it and that eagle could carry him around the world. The conductor glanced at the papers and then moved on, believing that Douglas was probably a sailor.

The train took Bailey to Havre de Grace where he caught a ferry across the Susquehanna River and then a train to Wilmington, Delaware. Thereafter he took a steamboat to Philadelphia and then caught another train to New York City. All of this in September 1838.

From that beginning, Douglass went on to become an author, lecturer and advocate for the abolition of slavery. Call, or contact us for a free consult.

Boss Tweed Of New York

We have all heard of Tammany Hall.  It is the so-called meeting place of the famously corrupt head of the New York City Democratic Party.  His full name was William Magear “Boss” Tweed.  Tweed served one term in the U.S. Congress. However he became much more powerful as the head of the Tammany Society. This group had almost unlimited control over political patronage throughout the state of New York. 

The Tammany Irish

Tweed’s source of power was principally the Irish immigrants who flooded into New York.  Eventually Tweed was arrested.  During his first jury trial, the jury failed to reach a verdict.  It was believed that the jury had been rigged.  However in a second trial that was better controlled by prosecutors, he was convicted of 204 counts.  His 12-year prison sentence was eventually reduced to one year.  He was thereafter sued by the state for $6 million and was confined to debtor’s prison.  While he was in prison, he was allowed out in the afternoons for a walk in Central Park.  Finally in December of 1875 Boss Tweed disappeared.  He escaped to Cuba.  From there he fled to Spain.  However he was eventually returned to New York, where he agreed to testify against fellow conspirators.  He died in 1878, still imprisoned in the Ludlow Street Jail.

Attorney For The Damned

The famous trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow was the subject of more than one state inquiry because of the courage he displayed in representing unpopular defendants in criminal cases. In one case where union members were charged with murder related to a labor dispute, Darrow was charged with jury tampering. This was based upon the conduct of an investigator that he had hired. The prosecutors in that case installed a listening device in Darrow’s hotel room. That resulted in no info relating to the jury tampering. Indeed from the posture of the case, it appeared that Darrow had no motive to bribe jurors. Prior to the trial he had worked out a plea bargain to spare the workers from the death penalty. Instead they would receive lengthy prison terms. As a result, there never was a trial. As to both criminal charges against him, he was never found guilty.

Some Missteps By Darrow

In a book entitled Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, the author John Farrell puts a more human face on Darrow. He discusses some of his potential missteps. 

Darrow was accused in two different instances of bribing jurors.  Each of those cases went to trial.  In the first of those cases Darrow gave his own closing argument. He did what he was known for doing in many other cases. He put the entire justice system on trial in the case.  In that particular case he was found not guilty.

In the second trial involving similar allegations the jury came back with a hung verdict of 8-4 for conviction.  Darrow was not retried. However he never did fully recover from the anguish of these trials. 

As is so often the case, this very flawed man accomplished many good things.

The Glove Did Fit

In one of the trials of the century involving O.J. Simpson, he was asked for some reason, to put on the supposed glove used by the murderer. The glove did not fit. The prosecutor thought the glove did fit.

His defense counsel, Johnnie Cochran, subsequently argued to the jury that since the glove did not fit they must acquit.

Darden’s Excuse

One of the prosecutors involved in the trial, Christopher Darden, who clearly was outmatched by the defense counsel in the case claimed that he believed that Johnnie Cochran tore the lining of the glove. This would prevent Simpson’s fingers from going all the way into the glove.

When challenged as to why he did not raise that at the time of the trial Darden had no good explanation. However he admitted he did not have any actual facts to back up his assertion. 

Darden was criticized for even allowing this courtroom demonstration. He did not know ahead of time whether or not the glove would fit. Most trial lawyers know all too well that courtroom demonstrations are dangerous. If you do not know the outcome ahead of time probably best to pass.  Call, or contact us for a free consult.

Top Legal Novels

The Ox-Bow Incident published in 1940 was the study of the lynching of three innocent men in a western town.  The author’s view of mob justice is generally now viewed as being a work of genius.

Native Son

Native Son by Richard Wright was also published in 1940.  The main character in this novel is Bigger Thomas, a young Chicago black man whose discomfort with white people drives him into increasingly deeper trouble.  He is eventually condemned to death for two murders.  The novel is based on the case of Robert Nixon, who was executed for murder in 1938. 

Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was published in 1850.  Although technically not a legal book, it involved the honor of a fallen woman by the name of Hester Prynne. She had an affair with the pastor of her puritan church.  Hester survived the indignity of wearing the scarlet A. She insisted on thereafter making substantial contributions to her community.

Billy Budd

Billy Budd by Herman Melville was published in 1924.  Budd was a model sailor on a British warship.  He was falsely accused by the ship’s second-in-command of mutiny.  Budd struck the accuser with such force as to kill him. Thereafter he was tried for murder by the Captain and found guilty and hung.  The book deals with the rule of law over the sense of justice.

Les Miserables and Trial

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is a tale of justice about a peasant condemned to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. 

The Trial by Franz Kafka written in 1925 is a tale of a trial where the accuser and the accusations are both unspecified.  As such there can be no justice.

Bleak

Bleak House by Charles Dickens published in 1852 involves a murder where Lady Dedlock is suspected.  In the novel Dickens gives an ongoing account of another case involving estate issues that drags on from generation to generation until the money runs out.

Crime and Mockingbird

In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky deals with a man who has murdered an elderly pawnbroker. This was part of a premeditated murder-robbery. He also kills the pawnbroker’s sister.  The accused subsequently finds himself unable to bear the psychological burden of his guilt.

The ultimate classic is of course To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee published in 1960.  The lawyer, Atticus Finch, loses his biggest case but cites the memorable line, “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Legal Drama of Note

Trials

One of the early ones was “THE MERCHANT OF VENICE”. Portia dressed as a doctor of laws attempts to prevent Shylock from getting his “pound of flesh” from her husband’s friend Antonio.  Portia pleaded that the “quality of mercy is not strain’d”. Also she argued that Shylock could have his pound of flesh but if any harm came to Antonio because of Shylock’s extraction of his pound of flesh then Shylock stood to forfeit his entire fortune and perhaps even his life.

One of the more famous plays is “TWELVE ANGRY MEN”. It is a series of interesting observations on the role of race and class in the judicial system. It touches on the role of circumstantial evidence. In addition it addresses the issue of how a person’s history determines the quality of justice.

Evolution

In “INHERIT THE WIND” a Tennessee teacher was put on trial for teaching evolution.  The case was made famous by H.L. Mencken who reported on the confrontation between Darrow and William Jennings Bryan. Clarence Darrow undertook the defense of the teacher who was discussing evolution. Also they both acquired national and international fame in this Scopes trial. 

Momentous Trials

In “JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG” a well thought of state judge from the United States was called upon to preside over a trial of Ernst Janning. Janning was German judge who had gone from being a principled jurist to a Nazi hack. 

In “ANATOMY OF A MURDER” the author recounts his defense of a young murder suspect accused of killing a man who had raped his wife. 

The criminal trial of Adolf Eichmann was the basis for the play known as “THE MAN IN THE GLASS BOOTH”.  Here a wealthy New York developer was accused of being an infamous Nazi war criminal.  As the play develops, it becomes questionable as to whether or not the accused is in fact actually a survivor from one of the camps. 

Seasons and Typhoons

Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII’s friend and chancellor became “A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS”. He refused to sign an oath denying the Catholic Church when Henry sought to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Henry wanted to marry Anne Boleyn.  More was executed for his act of faith. 

The CAINE MUTINY portrayed the removal of Commander Queeg from the USS Caine during a typhoon. 

Also for more information about legal drama see the pages on Wikipedia.

Call, or contact us for a free consult. For more information on the law see Brien Roche’s book Law 101 and for information on legal history see the pages on on that topic.

Contact Us For A Free Consultation

Contact Us For A Free Consultation