« ElőzőTovább »
horsc-stealing, * sheep-stealing, and the like, because it is against their consciences to take men's lives away for such offences as these. But how do such men's consciences dispense with their solemn oath of office they are here brought into a very serious dilemma ; they have sworn solemnly to execute the laws, but their consciences won't let them do this ; what then becomes of their oaths, which are given as secu. rities to the public for the due execution of justice ? such a judge ought to resign his place, and not trifle thus with the law, with himself, and with his fellow-subjects, in matters of such weighty consequence. (b)
It was worthy the understanding and policy of a low thief, to say to judge Burnett, once, at Hertford assizes—“My lord, , It is very bard to hang me for only stealing a horse.”-It was worthy the good sense and wisdom of that learned judge, to answer—“Man, thou art not to be hanged only for stealing a horse, but that horses may not be stolen.”—This answer I could wish the judges to carry with them, whenever they go the circuit, and to bear it in their minds, as containing a wise reason for all the penal statutes which they are called upon to put in execution: it at once illustrates the true grounds and reasons of all capital punishments whatsoever, namely, that every man's property, as well as his life, may be held sacred and inviolate.- This, thank God! is, in this country,
* I have just seen a printed hand bill, from Chertsey, in the county of Surry, signed by many gentlemen and farmers, com, plaining (as well they may) of the daily increase of SHEEP and HORSE-STEALING; and offering a reward of twenty pounds, to any person who shall be the means of convicting an offender.
This is one of those instances, which prove, how sererely these mischiefs are felt by the public; as well as how great a cause that public has to complain, of those who turn such miscreants loose upon their fellow-subjects.
(6) Page 102.
the constant care of the legislature, and whoever counteracts this, deprives us of our common birth-right. (b)
Suffice it to say, that, if there were the same care taken to execute the laws in the higher departments of magistracy, as there is in the lower, such a check must be given to the licentiousness of robbers, as soon to bring on a new face of things. We should almost have to say—redeunt Saturnia regna. (c)
As it is to the purpose of these papers, I would observe, that the petty juries, who are to stand between the crown and the prisoners, notwithstanding the solemn oath by which they are bound, frequently acquit prisoners, in the very face of the clearest and most indisputable evidence. (d)
The oath of a petty juryman is as follows, viz. “You shall well and truly try, and true deliverance make, between our Sovereign Lord the King, and the prisoner” (or prisoners) “at the bar, whom ye shall have in charge, and a true verdict give ACCORDING TO THE EVIDENCE.-So help you GOD.”
The words of this solemn adjuration are very plain and intelligible to the meanest capacity, and very clearly point out to the juryman the whole of his duty. They confine his attention to the evidence before him, and they bind his conscience to deliver his verdict, simply, according to the convic. tion which that evidence works upon his mind. (e)
Instead of this, juries frequently take upon themselves to give verdicts diametrically opposite to the evidence which has been delivered. I have often observed this, with much uneasiness; and, indeed, that man, who can hear twelve people perjure themselves, and not be affected by it, must, one
(6) Page 105. (c) Page 130.
(d) Page 135. (e) Page 136.
jury, is beyond a doubt : they have given a verdict according
should think, be void of all feeling; of all proper feeling, at least, whatsoever.. (c)
For instance. A prisoner is set to the bar, and put upon his trial. The witnesses uniformly, and without a doubt, prove the fact against him. But perhaps he happens to be young ; it appears to be his first offence; he has, before the fact which is proved against him, had a good character; he was drawn in by others; was in liquor ; or some other circumstance of the like kind strikes the minds of the jury; they forget their oath ; “to give a true verdict according to the evidence;" and take upon themselves to acquit the prisoner, against all fact and truth. This I have often
that I cannot forbear the mention of it. The judge, on this occasion, usually takes little further notice of the matter, than to congratulate the prisoner on “his narrow escape,” and to tell him that he has had a very merciful jury.". ,d)
That such an acqnital as this is owing to the perjury of the to their feelings, but against their oath. This may be a very dangerous business to the public; for if a jury can give a false verdict in favour of a prisoner in one case, they may also give a false verdict in another, in prejudice of the party accused. If through favour they acquit, through prejudice, they may convict*; and if so, their oath, which is to be looked upon as
(c) Page 137. (d) Page 138. * This I remember to have happened, in a very remarkable case, of a person of fortune, who was maliciously indicted for stealing turkies, and as maliciously convicted, at a certain general quarter sessions held in the Borough of Southwark. To behold a venerable figure of an old gentleman, above seventy years of age, standing at the bar, as a common felon, was, in itself, an afflicting sightbut to see a jury capable of coprictiog him against law, as well as
the grand security to the public, as far as juries are concerned, is a nugatory piece of form. (e)
5thly. The laws of England are not severe. I would be understood to confine myself to the penal or criminal laws; and, however it may be fashionable with many, to find great fault with the number and severity of these, yet I think it our happiness, that, as crimes have arisen, there have been laws made to repress them; nor do I conceive, that any man can reasonably find fault with this, except indeed it be the villain who is the object of them, and who certainly would wish to be free and exempt from all restraint whatsoever. As to the severity of our laws, I know of none but of the most wholesome kind; for it is this alone which can deter the savage minds of those who are the objects of that severity, from the commission of those outrages and mischiefs against which the severity of our laws is levelled. The regular, sober, and virtuous part of the society has nothing to fear from the severity of the laws, but they have much to hope for; they may hope by this to be protected in their persons and properties, and in the secure possession of their lawful rights; for, however the profligate and abandoned assailant måy have cast off every humane and virtuous inducement to good, and
fact, contrary to the sense and diroction of the court, was still more
secms, that this old gentleman was a good deal disliked in his neighbourhood ; and there being, unfortunately, some of the jury literally de vicineto, they influenced the rest to find him guilty, and to persist in their verdict, though sent out of court to re-consider it.
This matter ended in an unanimous petition to our most gracious Sovereign, signed by all the magistrates, expressing their disapprobation of the verdict; which procured a pardon for the defendant.
(e) Page 140.
have put on the savageness, fierceness, and cruelty of a wild beast, so as to have forfeited all right and title even to the character of a man—there will be yet some principle of fear left, on which the screrity of our laws are intended to operate, so as to check and prevent the mischiefs he would otherwise commit; or, if he proceeds to the full extent of his wickedness, to fall upon him, as an example to others, who may yet be stopped before it be too late. (a)
Whoever examines the common and statute laws, which respect the criminal jurisdiction to be exercised over offenders of all kinds, must surely acknowledge the watchfulness of the legislative powers, both ancient and modern, over the lives, liberties, and properties of the inhabitants of this country: a stranger, who should read over an accurate and well-digested code of our crown law, would imagine us to be the happiest, the securest, and best protected people under the sun, in point of our internal police. He would admire the disposition of the whole, as well as the adapting of every part for the public good.-No dangerous crime without a prescribed severity of punishment; so contrived, as that the offender has nothing to hope; this inducement so precluded, as to leave no encouragement to villainy; in short, he might be led almost to imagine, that the account we have of our safety from thieves and robbers, must be as perfect as in the days before the Conquest, when it was said, that “ a child might go from one end of the kingdom, to the other, with a bag of money in his hand, without fear of having it taken from him.” (6)
Revision of our Laws. I have professedly avoided entering upon the question, how far it might be expedient to revise our penal statutes, relative to capital offences ? but, as a friend to examination and revi