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ing them to do so. Kindly tell me what I am
to do."

The crowd in the court-room titters and the
court attendant raps loudly with a paper-weight
on the oaken railing for silence. The judge re-
gards Mr. Appleboy good-naturedly.

"I am very sorry you have had so much
trouble. My position in the matter simply is that
I cannot personally take the responsibility of de-
ciding to whom this property belongs, particularly
when no jury has ever passed upon the guilt or
innocence of the defendant. I shall be very glad,
however, to approve any certificate which the
district attorney may choose to give you stating


The Prisoner at the Bar

tfiat he has no further need or use for the prop-

Appleboy brightens.

"Your Honor," says he, "Mr. Jones has
already given me such a certificate, and I shall be
much obliged to you if you will approve it."

Jones hands it to the judge, who writes the
word "Approved" upon it, then returns it to the

"You will observe," says his Honor, "that all I
do in the matter is to approve the statement of
the district attorney that he makes no objection
to the delivery of the property to any person who
proves to the satisfaction of the property clerk
his right to the possession of the same. My ap-
proval really does not amount to anything at all.
I cannot grant you a court order. I am aware
that several of my associates might do so under
exactly similar circumstances, but I personally do
not care to assume any such responsibility. Pro-
ceed with the case on trial."

Out in the corridor Appleboy inquires anxiously
of Jones how on earth he is going to prove to the
satisfaction of the property clerk his right to the
possession of the teapot.

"Oh, you won't have any difficulty at all," says
Jones; "this certificate from us, with the judge's


Red Tape

*O. K.' on it, is equivalent to a court order, even
if it is not one technically."

"I don't know," answers Appleboy doubtfully;
"this paper seems to leave it up to me to persuade
the intelligence of the property clerk."

"You won't have any trouble," laughs the as-
sistant. "Good-by."

Mr. Appleboy leaves the building once more,
and again takes the subway to Police Head-

"Back again?" inquires the property clerk

"I have a certificate from the district attorney,
approved by the judge giving you permission to
return the teapot to me," says Appleboy, shoving
the paper through the wicket.

The clerk takes it.

"This isn't a court order," says he. "Still, if
the woman has skipped her bail and the judg-
ment has been satisfied, I guess we can take a
chance and let you have your teapot, provided of
course you are properly identified. You see, so
far as we know, you may have picked this certifi-
cate up on the street. The thing for you to do
is to get hold of the officer who made the arrest,
and who knows all about the case, and have him
identify you."

"How shall I do that?" asks Appleboy, very

The Prisoner at the Bar

much irritated. "I don't know where he is; I
can't go chasing all over the City of New York
after police officers; I'm sick of this whole busi-
ness; you know perfectly well I am Silas Apple-
boy, else I shouldn't have this paper, and I
shouldn't be around here trying to get that tea-

"Don't be too sure about that," replies the
property clerk. "We have had three women
here at the same time claiming the same pair of
diamond earrings, and each woman looked abso-
lutely respectable. One of them came in a car-
riage with a footman. We found out afterwards
that the earrings didn't belong to any one of
them, but to an entirely different person."

Appleboy loses all patience. Just as he is
about to place his hands upon the teapot, presto,
it vanishes. Two Italians and a Chinaman,
escorted by an officer, now elbow past Appleboy,
who disconsolately gives them place. He is "up
against it" again; there is no help for it; rules
are rules and the law is the law. How now to
find Patrick, the officer! He begins to wish he
had been nicer to Patrick; if he had been a
little more liberal in the way of cigars at the time
the teapot was stolen, things might have been
very much easier for him now. He utters an
imprecation under his breath against all police-


Red Tape

men and police red tape. Grinding his teeth, he
goes to the nearest telephone booth and asks to
be connected with the precinct to which Patrick
is attached. The operator refers him to 3100
Spring, namely, Headquarters, but there he is
informed that private citizens may not be con-
nected with police stations. He hangs up the
receiver with something almost like an oath, Poor
Vestryman Appleboy! Let us not be too hard
upon him.

It is now half-past eleven o'clock. He takes
the car uptown and returns to the station house,
but the sergeant informs him that Patrick is down
in the Criminal Courts building as a witness in a
burglary case. This is the last straw. Frenzied,
he rushes from the station house, takes another
car and sits tensely until once more he is at the
Criminal Courts building. Fortunately he has
had the forethought to inquire of the sergeant to
which of the four parts of the General Sessions
Patrick has been subpoenaed, and he now finds
that it is the same court-room at the door of
which presides his friend of the day before. The
doorkeeper greets him genially, and in response
to Appleboy's inquiries replies, shure, that he
knows Pat McGinnis; that Pat has been there
all the morning, but has just shtepped out over to
Tom Foley's saloon. Although Appleboy has not

The Prisoner at the Bar

been inside the portals of such a place since he
was nineteen years old, he frantically inquires its
direction, and, fearful lest he lose the object of
his search, dashes across the street to the corner

The little old gentleman with the shining silk
hat sticks his head timidly through the door and
observes Patrick at the end of the bar crooking
his elbow in the customary manner. He draws
an inspiration from the sight; with a bland smile
he steps up to the bar himself, slaps the officer
familiarly on the back and, pulling off his gloves,
remarks, "Well, Pat, old boy, how do you feel?
Have another on me !"

Patrick gazes at him open-mouthed. Can this
be the stiff, little old bank president he knew six
months ago? But there can be no question as to
Appleboy's intention when he hears the latter
order "two rye high-balls, and another-for-your-
self" of the astonished barkkeeper. Appleboy
toasts Patrick, Patrick toasts Appleboy. Patrick
produces cigars; Appleboy replaces them with
others, larger and thicker than any seen at

"By the way," says Appleboy, "step up to
Police Headquarters with me, will you, Pat?
Now that I happen to be down this way, I might


Red Tape

as well take that teapot home with me, don't you

"Shure," says Pat; "court's adjourned by this
time, and I can get back by two o'clock all right."

The best of friends, they go up in the subway
together to Police Headquarters. With a bold
front and fearless eye Appleboy enters the office
of the property clerk, produces his certificate
from the district attorney, and demands his tea-

"This officer will identify me," says he.

"Shure I indentify him," announces Pat.

The clerk takes the certificate, opens the record
book and, with a rubber stamp, enters up on the
back of the original report the words ;

"Identified by officer

as owner of the property."

"Write your name there," says he to Patrick,
and McGinnis laboriously scrawls his name be-
tween the lines.

The clerk now disappears into an ajdoining
room, presently returning with an object about
the size of a football, wrapped in coarse paper,
tied with a multitude of strings and bearing a

"Here you are, sir," says he, opening the door

The Prisoner at the Bar

in the wire grating and passing the football to
Appleboy, whose heart beats wildly.

The clerk then stamps the words "Delivered
on identification of officer" upon his record book,
closes the same with a slam and turns aside to
other more important business. How simple it
all is when you once know how to do it !

"Easy, ain't it?" remarks Pat.

"Easy as rolling off a log," answers Appleboy
with a grim smile.




IT is a fact, which may at first appear para-
doxical, that the jury in the ordinary run of
criminal cases passes upon the guilt or innocence
of very few professional criminals. A moment's
consideration will reveal the reason. The pro-
fessional criminal usually has a "record" and he
knows full well that in view of his past history,
if there be any sort of a case against him, his own
defence, however eloquent or ingenious, will go
for nothing. An affirmative answer to the sim-
ple question, "Have you ever been convicted?"
is, in three cases out of five, equivalent to a plea
of guilty. Now it is an understood thing that any
prisoner, who is willing to admit his guilt and
save the county the expense and trouble of a trial,
shall receive some consideration in return there-
for when it comes time to impose his sentence,
and usually he expects to receive in addition a
guarantee of good faith from the assistant dis-
trict attorney in the shape of the latter's accept-
ance of his plea to a lower degree of the same


The Prisoner at the Bar

crime. The real "gun" is apt to have his life
pretty well mapped out. He anticipates serving
about so much time "in stir" and figures on beat-
ing about every other case before it reaches an
actual trial. If worst comes to worst, and he
finds he must face a jury of his peers, he dickers
for the lowest plea he can get. Whole court
terms often go by without a single professional
crook being actually tried. If one of them is
"caught with the goods" he generally throws up
his hands and stolidly takes his medicine.

The ordinary citizen quite naturally gains
his impressions of the administration of criminal
justice by reading accounts of sensational trials.
He imagines that the daily life of the prosecutor
consists in demanding the conviction of hardened
felons with sordid, crime-tracked features, varied
by occasional spectacular "star cases" where
counsel for the defendant and the prosecutor vie
with one another in stupendous outbursts of ora-
tory in which the bird of liberty screams unre-
strained and Justice frantically waves her scales.
He supposes, if he gives the matter any consid-
eration at all, that defendants languish away
their lives in the Tombs waiting for trials which
never come, and that influential criminals walk
the streets while the indictments against them lie
accumulating an overcoat of dust in some for-


The Trial of Felonies

gotten pigeon-hole. He frankly assumes that
the jury system is pretty nearly a failure, and
knows of his own knowledge, or thinks he does,
that any one with enough money can either avoid
being tried for crime at all or, if by any mischance
he be convicted, can easily escape punishment or
at least delay it indefinitely by technicalities of
procedure and appeals. In his customary dialect
he "has no use" for the criminal or the criminal
courts, and his only dread is that he may some
time be drawn as a juror and be compelled to
serve in a region of the city where he will be un-
able to find a satisfactory place to get his lunch
and in the society of those whose companionship
he fancies he is not likely to enjoy.

Let us assume that Mr. Ordinary Citizen has
been so unfortunate as to receive one of those
pink slips which call upon him to "all business or
other matters lay aside" and to attend at Part I
of the General Sessions of the Peace at ten o'clock
on the first Monday of the month. He finds him-
self in a large and well-lighted court-room, at one
end of which, on a dais, sits a judge more or less
surrounded by various persons who continually
approach and engage him in conversation. At a
desk in front, a clerk and his assistant are busy
with piles of documents, which "O. C." learns
later to be indictments, and with big ledgers which


The Prisoner at the Bar

are is fact the "Minutes of the Sessions." The
room is crowded, all the benches being filled with
a varied, but, on the whole, a respectable-appear-
ing assortment of humanity. In front of the
judge and clerk, wandering around inside an en-
closure, at one side of which stands the tem-
porarily empty jury-box, are several young men
who are earnestly engaged in talking to the law-
yers, complainants and policemen who throng at
the bar.

Suddenly the clerk raises his voice and shouts,
"Harken to the call of the calendar!'' An
officer pounds on a railing with a paper-weight,
another bellows, "Finds seats there! An' quit
talkin' 1" and the judge, gazing at a long sheet
of foolscap in his hand, remarks inquiringly:

"People against Murphy?"

The young assistant district attorney at once
answers :

"People are ready."

"If your Honor please," nervously exclaims a
stout man pushing his way to the front, "this case
has never been on the calendar before. I was
only retained last night and I did not receive any
notice that it was to be tried until this morning.
I ask that it go over until next week."

"What do you say, Mr. District Attorney?"
asks the judge.


The Trial of Felonies

"Oh, it's a very simple case/' answers the as-
sistant. "There's no reason why it should not be
tried to-day."

"Well, I'll give you until to-morrow," says the
judge. "You must be ready then."

"People against Smith?" he continues.

Both sides happen to be ready in this case.

"People against McCord?"

"Defendant's going to plead," says the assist-

"People against Vermicelli?'*

"We expect to make a recommendation in that
case, your Honor," announces the assistant,
and so it goes until fifteen or twenty cases have
been marked "Ready" or "Passed for the day"
or adjourned to let the defendant get his wit-
nesses or, in point of fact, for the lawyer to ex-
tract his fee.

The clerk then calls the roll of the jury, and
after the rush which ensues to present excuses
to the effect that the talesman's health or business
is in a precarious condition, the court settles grad-
ually down to its routine work.

A jury is empanelled and a lank, seedy-looking
youth takes his seat at the bar between a spruce,
bald-headed little man and a court officer. He is
charged with having "policy-slips in his posses-



The Prisoner at the Bar

So far U O. C.," our juror, has been impressed
with the business-like and cheerful manner in
which the proceedings have been conducted.
Most of the lawyers, instead of clamoring for a
trial for their languishing clients, have exerted
all their efforts to secure delays. Then he learns
to his surprise that the average length of time
which elapses between a defendant's arrest for
felony and his trial, unless the prisoner be out on
bail, is less than one week.*

"Jury satisfactory to both sides ?" inquires the

*This is a vast improvement over the conditions which existed
in this regard six or seven years ago, when defendants in prison
could count themselves fortunate if tried within three weeks,
or, if on bail, within a year. It was by no means unusual to
have cases appear upon the calendars from three to five
years old, the backs of the indictments being covered with names
of assistants long since departed from official life. The writer
once tried a case that had appeared on the calendar TWENTY-
EIGHT times, and cases which had appeared there from ten to
twenty times were the rule, not the exception. In the days
when the present district attorney was a deputy, indictments
were so carelessly found and treated that in order to clear the
calendars bushel baskets of them would be brought into court
and dismissed "on the recommendation" of the district attorney.
A house-cleaning process of this sort would ordinarily occur
just before it became necessary to make an official report on
the number of cases "disposed of." Today there are very few
indictments not tried within the year, and almost any defendant
who wants one can get a speedy trial, such delays as arise be-
ing generally caused by the defendant himself. Of course dur-
ing the summer months when but two courts are open, and the
judges sit from only ten-thirty to one o'clock, action is somewhat
less speedy, and as homicide cases 'usually require more time for
trial than others, and are tried seriatim in order of age, the de-
fendants may have to wait a little longer than in cases of less
gravity. Even in such cases defendants generally have to be
"forced to trial" against their will.


The Trial of Felonies

"Entirely so," reply the little bald-headed man
and the prosecutor together.

Suddenly the lank youth leans over and whis-
pers to the lawyer, who after a moment's conver-
sation beckons to the prosecutor. There is a
brief consultation and the assistant tosses the in-
dictment to the clerk with the announcement:

"He pleads guilty."

The defendant gets up and shuffles to the bar,
where his pedigree is taken and a day set for his
sentence, which, in the event of his never having
been convicted before, will probably be a fine of
twenty-five dollars or a month in the penitentiary.

"Call the next case," says the judge.

"People against Thompson," shouts the clerk.
"Bring up Thompson."

The door in the back of the room opens and
"Thompson" is "brought up." He is a good-
looking young negro, defended by a member of
his own race. The jury say they have no preju-
dice against negroes and are sworn without leav-
ing the box. The charge is one of assault in the
first degree that is to say, with intent to kill.
The complainant is a flashily dressed young mu-
latto woman, who asserts that the defendant
"done crack her head wif an ice-pitcher," and pro-
duces the fragments of pitcher, done up in a news-
paper. She admits that at the time of the un-


The Prisoner at the Bar

fortunate occurrence she was living with the
defendant as his wife. There are no other wit-
nesses for the People, and the defendant is sworn
without more ado. He explains that the com-
plainant accused him of being too attentive to a
"yaller gal" on the next street and when he at-
tempted to go out of the house she attacked him
with a pen-knife. In confirmation of this he ex-
hibits a small cicatrix on his wrist. After hearing
the evidence the assistant announces to the judge
that the case ought in his opinion to have been
disposed of in the police court and that the inter-
ests of justice will be subserved if his Honor will
discharge the defendant on his own recognizance.
This the judge does with an admonitory lecture,
and the defendant and the complainant go away
together. "O. C.," the juror, begins to conclude
that the assistant is a pretty fair sort of a chap.
Trial follows trial with great rapidity. Gradu-
ally the crowd in the court-room thins out. By
one o'clock only a donzen or fifteen witnesses and
spectators remain, and by half-past three the
benches are practically empty. "O. C." has heard
a dozen different complaining witnesses tell the
story of how as many defendants have wronged
them. The Bowery merchant whose packing-
cases have been broken into has followed as com-
plainant the man who has been robbed in a saloon;


The Trial of Felonies

the "clothes-line fight" has given place to the
story of the actual abduction of a young girl by a
"cadet"; the landlady who has received a bad
cheque from a lodger can hardly wait to recount
the history of her misfortunes, for the man who
has lost a horse and wagon through a drunken
driver, whom he charges with grand larceny.

Generally the "People's case" consists of the
complainant's version of what has occurred, some-
what corroborated by another witness or two,
and the officer who made the arrest. Then the
lawyer for the defendant takes his client by the
shoulder and with a gruff u Go 'round there, young
man," or, if he be playing for sympathy, a gentle
"Please take the stand, William," starts him upon
that most dangerous of all adventures, a journey
to the witness-chair in his own behalf. In two
cases out of three the defendant's own testimony,
if he is guilty, is what convicts him. Both sides
"sum" up in short, disconnected speeches, and
the judge delivers a brief charge. The jury file
out and another is immediately sworn. As the
next trial begins very likely the door from the
"pen" will open and the proceedings be inter-
rupted long enough to allow another prisoner to
tramp around the court-room, take his stand at
the bar, and plead guilty.

"John Keenan, alias Foxy Keenan, alias Gum-

The Prisoner at the Bar

Shoe Jack, do you now desire to withdraw the
plea of 'Not guilty* heretofore entered by you,
and to now plead guilty to grand larceny in the
second degree?"

The defendant acknowledges with no very
amiable expression that this is his inclination, and
his pedigree, which is taken by the clerk forth-
with, discloses that he has served five times in
State's prison and twice in the penitentiary. "O.
C." looks at his fellow jurors and whistles under
his breath. That was the real thing and no mis-
take. Very likely the jury upon which he is now
serving will convict, it having thus been brought
to their attention by a concrete illustration that
all the defendants are not innocent persons un-
justly accused of crime. "Remanded," says the
clerk, and Gum-Shoe Jack tramps back to the
little door and the interrupted trial goes on. The
stream of complainants, witnesses and defendants
is as varied as that in Balzac's "Comedie Hu-
maine." "O. C." begins to take a keen interest
and now and then to put a question himself. He
has taken the opportunity to make the acquaint-
ance of the assistant district attorney at the noon
hour and now feels that he is really a part of the
machinery of justice.*

*The writer's colleague, Mr. Charles Copper Nott, Jr., has re-
corded as follows, the actual proceedings of an ordinary court


The Trial of Felonies

Ordinarily in a full court day there will occur
from two to four complete trials, while an equal
number of pleas may be taken. Sometimes a hun-
dred and fifty cases will be got rid of by trial or
plea in a single term in one part of the General
Sessions alone. On the other hand, if the cal-
endar is made up of "old-bail cases," indictments
for receiving stolen goods, misappropriation, and
Italian or Chinese homicides, the office accounts
itself lucky in getting rid of half a dozen cases in
the month. Occasionally, when a brisk, business-
like judge is sitting, a "homicide calendar" will
be disposed of at the rate of one a day, but this is
rare and can occur only when most of the cases
are for manslaughter or criminal negligence.

"Maria Dzialozindky takes the stand and swears that after
a brief acquaintance she married (as she supposed) the de-
fendant before a rabbi of his choosing; a man in charge of
an officer is identified by her as the rabbi; he is brought over
from the penitentiary on Blackwell's Island where he is serving
a sentence for larceny, being a thief and not a rabbi; Maria
then goes on to relate how the defendant then procured from
her one hundred and forty-nine dollars, an disappeared, leav-
ing her alone in the Suffolk Street tenement which was to have
been their connubial bower of bliss; it further appears that the
defendant had a wife living at the time that he went through
the ceremony of a mock marriage with Maria. Defendant takes
the stand, modestly admits that he is possessed of such unusual
attractions that Maria persecuted him into this marriage; that
she forced the one hundred and forty-nine dollars upon him,
and that he unfortunately slumbered in a saloon and it was
stolen from his person. The jury fail to give credence to his
tale, and promptly convict him. The next defendant is smooth
and well dressed, a hanger-on in the region known as the
Tenderloin. Testimony is given that he and another did take
and carry away and sell certain typewriting machines from an
office in Thirty-fourth Street. Defendant with an engaging


The Prisoner at the Bar

When trials are rapid their speed always re-
dounds to the benefit, not of the People, but of
the defendant. Such a performance in a court
of justice as the following, recounted by Lord
Brampton, could not take place to-day. It is
worth reproduction as marking the progress of

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Online LibraryArthur Cheney TrainThe prisoner at the bar: sidelights on the administration of criminal justice → online text (page 11 of 20)