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tion, pass through all the gradations of simple larceny into the higher departments of robbery and burglary. It so happened, that about the time of passing the act for amending the penal laws, there was accumulated in the gaol of the city and country of Philadelphia a great number of persons who had been convicted of these and other infamous crimes, and were either pardoned by the mercy of the government, or had undergone the punishment (and some of them the repeated punishment) of the pillory and whipping-post. These wretches, hardened by the nature of the punishment they had sustained, shut up together in idleness, frecly supplied with liquor, witnesses of each others debauchery, instructing the inexperienced in the arts of villainy, and mutually corrupting and corrupted by each other, were a melancholy proof of the inefficacy of our former laws, and they were well prepared to despise the new. In order to clear the gaol, and accommodate it to the operation of the new system, these offenders were, from time to time, discharged, and as soon as they were at liberty they returned to their old vocation.
It is a fact well known, that among all the convicts which first fell under the correction of the new law, scarce a new face appeared. Most of those who were convicted of the two offences in question, were sentenced to undergo an imprisonment of five, seven, or ten years; and had these sentences been strictly enforced, the benefit of the new system would have been apparent, and these crimes would have become rare.
Of all offenders these are the most incorrigible. Other offences are seldom repeated : but a person once devoted to any species of theft is seldom reclaimed by any terrors he has undergone or any mercy he has received. Reformation, though not impossible, must be the work of much time. A strict execution of the act was, therefore, essential to its suc
But it unfortunately happened, that they were scarcely
convicted before many of them were again loose upon the public. Pardons, so destructive to every mild system of penal 'anu laws, instead of being thought dangerous, were granted with a profusion as unaccountable as it was mischievous : and escapes, which ought to have been guarded against by the thee most vigilant care, were multiplied to an alarming degree. po Sixty-eight different persons were convicted of these offences previous to the year 1790. Of these, twenty-nine escaped, and thirty have been pardoned, five executed for capital offenccs committed after their
and one killed in an affray. I doubt whether any one male offender served out the time to which he was condemned by the sentence of the court ; and it is certain, that there is not, at this time, in gaol, a single person under a sentence pronounced previous to the year 1791. When to these abuses it is added, that the system itself was defective in requiring the criminals to be employed abroad, which gave them opportunities for intoxication, and hardened them against shame; that their labour was not equal to that which it is the lot of poverty to endure, while their fare was much better ; that there were no places for solitary confinement nor power to inflict it, and no real increase of punishment for a second offence; we may readily conjecture, that the operations of the system must have been not only impeded but
The defects of the system were corrected in 1790 ; the exe
th cution of it has been diligently attended to by the inspectors, an and the prerogative of pardon, since it has resided in a single in magistrate, is no longer weakly exercised.
Our calculations ought, therefore, to be made on the ope. rations of the corrected system during the two last years. From an inspection of the table, it is evident these crimes liave greatly decreased during that period. The cowrictions in those two years are, upon an average, considerably lesen ?? than those in any two years which precede them,
But, under all the difficulties which, at first, it encountered, and without allowing for re-convictions which swell the account, let us examine wliat has been the general effect of the systeň, on these crimes, since it was first adopted. Referring, therefore, to the table, and excluding the year 1778, in order to make the time previous and subsequent to the act as equal as we can, the account will stand thus :
From this statement it appears, that more persons were tried for these offences, while they were capital, than since the punishment has been lessened: and if we allow for reconvictions, the difference will be much greater. It is true, the number of persons convicted in the former period, is less than that of those convicted in the latter : but in this (as well as in the number of partial acquittals) I see nothing but the humano struggles of the jury to save the offender from death. · At that period the acquittals were more than half the number of the convictions : since the change in our laws, they do not amount to a fourth.-A proof how much the severity of a law tends to defeat its execution* !
THE FOLLOWING. CASE IS FROM DALLAS'S AMERICAN REPORTS.
The Commonwealth, v. Dillon.
4 DALLAS, 116. The prisoner (a boy about 12 years old) was indicted for arson, in burning several stables, containing bay, &c. He was examined before the mayor of the city of Philadelphia on the 20th of Decem ber, 1791, and then confessed the commission of the offences, with
: It is probable that the number of these crimes would have been less, had a greater difference been made between their punishment and that of simple larceny. Perhaps it might . have a beneficial effect, if solitary confinement and coarse fare were a necessary part of the punishment. At present, it forms no part of the sentence on the criminal, but is inflicted at the discretion of the inspectors, on “ the more hardened offenders. This is so indefinite a description, that this salutary rigour may be either capriciously inflicted or weakly withheld ; and, as it is not the certain consequence of the offence, it can be no check upon the mind of the offender.
which he was charged; but, as his own confession was the principal evidence (indeed there was no other possitive evidence) against him, his counsel insisted that it was obtained under such duresse, accompanied with threats and promises, as destroyed its legal credit and validity: The evidence on that point was, substantially, as follows:
On the 18th of December, the prisoner was committed to the jail of Philadelphia, and the next day was taken before the mayor; but, at that time he made no confession. On the 18th and 19th of December he was visited and interrogated by several respectable citizens, who represented to him the enormity of the crime, urged a free, open, and candid confession, which would so excite public compassion as, probably, to be the means of obtaining a pardon ; while a contrary course of conduct would leave him, in case of a conviction, without hope: and they added, that they would them. selves stand his friends, if he would confess. The inspectors of the prison endeavoured, likewise, to obtain from him a discovery of his offences, and of his accomplices." They carried him into the dungeon; they displayed it in all its gloom and horror; they said that he would be confined in it, dark, cold, and hungry, unless he made a full disclosure ; but if he did make a disclosure, he should be well accommodated, with room, fire, aod, victuals, and wight expect pity and favour. The prisoner continued to deny his
"It might be sound policy to make a distinction between the punishnient of those who commit these oflenőes, armed with dangerous and mortal weapons, and of those ivlió ho not indica ćate such violent intentions." Such'a distinction prevails in the laws of Connecticut, and also in those of Milan! and I understood from the nephew of the Marquis Beccaria, while he was in America, that beneficial effects had resulted from
Oi!! 10"; el this discrimination
s tous en Yates These crimes are still punished "svith death in the first instance, when committed by any person, sentenced to hard
guilt for some time, and when his måstev visited unn, he eam. plained of the want of clothes, fire, and nourishment! At length, however, on the 19th of December, he made successive acknow. ledginents of the facts contained in bis confession, which was formally, and to all appearance, 'voluntarily, made before the mayor on the succeeding morning, and which was repeated with additional circumstances, at subsequent periods. 8,
1 In the prisoner's defence various authorities were ciked, principally to guard the jury against the danger of mere presumptive evidence, and an extorted confession of guilt, through force, hope, or fear, particularly in the case of an infánt.
For the Commonwealth. The confession was delivered before the mayor, and afterwards repeated and enlarged, without the least appearance of constraint'or terror. No public officer has improperly attempted to excite fear, or hope, as the medium of extorting a discovery, and all that was said, or doné, in that respect, proceeded from the arowed friends of the prisoner, and the knower promoters of humanity. Besides, the confession itself bears intrin. sic marks of sincerity and truth; and neither the wildness of the boys motive, for committing the crimes, nor his youth, can afford a satisfactory answer to the charge. Fost. 70. And after all, to destroy the legal effect of the confession as evidence, it must be proved, 1st, that previous improper means were employed; and