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the door of that system we are discussing. Therefore, when one makes an investigation and a research, and finds that result to be in accord with his own experience, it is only natural for him, opposed as he is to the almost hysterical and constant cry on behalf of so-called reformers for a change from those fundamental and sound doctrines upon which is builded the best judicial system in the world, to come to the conclusion that the system in criminal cases has worked wonderfully well and should be left undisturbed.
The acid test given juries in the United States court during the last four years developed the inherent strength of the present system. Though war time legislation, including the Espionage Act, and war time prohibition, touched the most violent prejudices which our citizens possess, very few mistakes were made and in very few instances was a jury so blinded by prejudice or passion as to bring about a miscarriage of justice.
SPEEDY JUSTICE IN CRIMINAL CASES.
EDWIN W. SIMS,
OF CHICAGO, ILL. During the winter of 1920-21 the newspapers throughout the country declared that crime in American cities was at high tide. They repeatedly asserted that a wave of crime was sweeping the country with a deluge of murders, burglaries and robberies and that every kind of violence and lawlessness was rife.
A consideration therefore of the relation which the administration of criminal justice bears to outbursts of this kind will be of interest not only to criminologists but to society generally.
The history of organized government demonstrates conclusively that the speedy trial of criminal cases and the swift and certain punishment of criminals promptly effects a reduction in the volume of crime. On the other hand increased crime follows closely on the heels of delayed trials and deferred punishment. In short, crime increases or decreases in the proportion that punishment is swift and certain.
The speed with which crime is punished has a great deal more to do with the preservation of law and order in the community than the severity of punishment. It was the speedy action of the Vigilance Committee, in the frontier days of California, in administering swift and certain punishment more than the severity of the punishment that brought back order in that state.
Criminal laws bear close analogy to natural laws. A child puts its hand in the fire but once. One experience is sufficient. It is not necessary that the injury be severe. The natural law is effective because the punishment is always instant and certain. On the other hand where punishment is deferred or not a sure consequence, we find a tendency among humans to offend with much less concern.
Criminal laws are designed to protect life and property and to preserve peace in civilized communities. In order to make sure of the accomplishment of those results, organized govern
ment provides that those who willfully violate criminal laws shall be punished. It appears therefore that if we wish to enjoy the benefits of protection of life and the preservation of property, for which government was primarily organized, it is imperative that cases arising under the criminal laws be speedily disposed of.
Existing criminal laws in America are the evolution of centuries of practical experience. As they have been developed they are invaluable. There are those, however, who attack the theory of punishment and who, contending that crime is a disease, recommend and urge that punishment be abolished and some other form of treatment substituted. I am not going into that phase of the subject at all, other than to express the opinion that it is a grave mistake to in any way interfere with, impede or hamper the enforcement of existing laws, at least until the experiment has been thoroughly tested and found to be practical.
The City of Chicago offers an illustration of the effect which the speedy trial of criminal cases has on the volume of crime. Chicago has no more crime proportionately than other large cities. I refer to it here because a practical experiment to reduce crime which it has successfully carried out points the way to less lawlessness in large cities.
Three years ago the Chicago Association of Commerce appointed and financed a crime commission. This commission is not a reform organization. It does not of itself undertake the apprehension nor the prosecution of criminals; it does not duplicate the work of any official or department of government. It is an organization of lawyers and business men assigned the duty of ascertaining why there is so much crime and taking steps to effect a reduction.
The commission limits its activity to an investigation of crimes of violence, murder, burglary and robbery. It early reached the conclusion that crime flourished because criminals escaped punishment and that the principal avenue of escape was the delay in the trial of criminal cases. Therefore it set out to bring about the more speedy punishment of criminals.
The commission was organized in the year 1919. At that time the volume of crime in most of the larger American cities was proportionately the same as Chicago. Data collected for that year showed there were 110 murders to one million of popu
lation in Chicago as against nine to the million in Great Britain and 13 to the million in Canada. This meant that during the year 1919, there were more murders in Chicago, with a population of 3,000,000 than in the British Isles with a population of 40,000,000.
For years in Great Britain and Canada, murder cases have been generally disposed of within 60 or 90 days, and by disposed of, I mean that there has been a trial, an appeal, and the execution of the penalty within that time. In American cities there are practically no murder cases being tried within 90 days.
On April 1, 1920, 135 persons previously indicted for murder were awaiting trial in Chicago. In 104 cases the accused were at liberty on bond. In the majority of cases so much time had elapsed since indictment that witnesses had disappeared, evidence had been lost and successful prosecution made most difficult.
The situation was brought to the attention of the courts and officials by the Crime Commission with the result that four judges then in the civil courts volunteered to sit in the Criminal Court and try cases until the murder docket was cleared. The trial of these cases resulted in the sentencing of 12 to hang and 12 to the penitentiary for from one year to life.
The effect of clearing the murder docket on the number of murders and other crimes of violence in Chicago was electrical. Immediately following the speedy disposition of these cases, the murder rate in Chicago dropped 51 per cent, where it has since remained. The record for the first seven months of each of the last three years is, as follows:
23287 And so it was that with the newspapers throughout the country declaring that in the winter of 1920-21 crime was at high tide, it was a source of satisfaction to the citizens of Chicago to know the three major crimes of violence in Chicago had decreased.
The difficulty in securing conviction after long delay is evidenced by the following:
February 10, 1911, Michael Heinan, 17 years of age, was shot and killed by Thomas Chap, a bartender in a saloon. At the coroner's inquest Chap admitted the shooting, and justified his
act by accusing Heinan of striking matches on the bar top and kicking his dog. The boy was ordered from the saloon, and as he left Chap shot him in the back. Chap was indicted for murder March 4, 1911, and released on $10,000 bonds.
In compiling its report on continuances, the Chicago Crime Commission ran across the case, and in December 1919, eight and one-half years after the crime was committed, the defendant was placed on trial. The evidence seemed to be convincing, and the case was ably presented by the prosecuting attorney, notwithstanding which the jury returned a verdict of “not guilty.”
The jurors, in explaining how they came to reach that verdict in the face of the evidence presented, stated that they felt there was some reason which was being withheld from them for the nearly nine-year delay, and that under such peculiar circumstances they concluded to return a verdict of “not guilty.”
The Constitution of the United States and those of many of the states provide that "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial.” As a matter of fact the right to a speedy trial is the last thing the modern professional criminal desires. What he wants and what he too often obtains are continuances which drag the case along until the prosecutor and the public are tired out, and the prosecution eventually dropped.
In most American cities the criminal is warranted in assuming that there is better than a 50-50 chance that he will never even be arrested. If arrested there stands between him and actual punishment the possibility of escape on inadequate or "straw” bail. During a long line of continuances, the disappearance or death of the state's witnesses is probable. Other avenues of escape are disagreement of the jury, probation by the trial judge, appeal to higher courts, reversal, another trial and if finally convicted and the conviction sustained on appeal, there still remains the possibility of parole or pardon.
A certain volume of crime is inevitable in every community. It is not accidental crime resulting from passionate outbursts which is stirring our communities. It is the growing belief that in our large cities crime has become an established occupation carried on by men who have dedicated themselves to the business.