« PreviousContinue »
duced. Under a section of the criminal code the witness is allowed to make his statement in full, whatever it may be, without interruption from anyone. Perhaps his whole testimony may relate only to some report or rumor, what some one told him of the prisoner, or told him that some one else had said about him. Sometimes the witness, without knowing a single fact connected with the case, merely gives his opinion of the guilt or innocence of the defendant. This seems to be a survival of the old system of trial by compurgators in common use in the Middle Ages. When the witness has made his statement he may, if he prefers, decline to answer any questions put to him either by court or counsel. If, however, he raises no such objection the cross-examination permitted by the court is extremely scant and meagre.
If one witness contradicts what another has said a step is taken that never fails to awaken the keenest interest. The previous witness and the last witness are put on the stand together, and there they engage in a wordy duel on the subject of the conflicts in their testimony. This is called the confrontation of witnesses.
If, while the trial is in progress, the judge receives a letter or a telegram relating to the case he may read it to the jury if he likes; and counsel may do the same as to letters or telegrams received by them.
As the president seems to manage the trial without consultation with his fellow judges, one might wonder what function they perform. But counsel for either side may at any time present to the court what is called a conclusion, which is nothing more than a motion in writing stating the grounds on which it rests in a preliminary way under various “whereases," such as we see in the preambles of old English statutes. On receipt of this the whole court, including the prosecuting officers, retire to consider the conclusion. When they return the president announces the decision at which they have arrived.
Under this system jury trials are often drawn out to great length. Legions of witnesses are introduced to testify to rumors, or to make speeches for one side or the other. The daily press often take an active part in the proceeding. Different newspapers take different sides, some insisting on the innocence of the accused, others asserting his guilt; each arguing the case with zeal, and often without scruple. Certain witnesses are lauded to the skies, others are lampooned and ridiculed. Counsel often come in for a liberal share of detraction and abuse; and the judges are not always spared.
But a unique feature about such trials is that the audience take a lively part in every step by applauding and hissing, much as they would at a theater. If both sides are represented in the audience they vie with each other in their efforts, and the excitement becomes intense. When the noise becomes intolerable the court threatens to clear the room; but as such a step might result in a free fight, the judges generally compromise by suspending the session; and then they retire to their chambers until the tumult subsides; upon which the session is resumed. With regard to this intervention of the public in the trial, M. Jean Cruppi, at present an advocate of the Court of Cassation, and a member of the Chamber of Deputies for la Haute Garonne, says:
“All the actors of the judicial drama labor to influence passions which none of them have sufficient authority to suppress. These manifest themselves with violence, and sometimes with scandal. Those who are familiar with jurors, and have heard them talk, know how much this spectacle excites their astonishment and their censure; nevertheless they are influenced by it; and the murmur of approval or displeasure that accompanies the testimony of each witness necessarily makes an impression on their minds. When the crowd interferes and dictates a verdict, the jury are indignant—and obey."
At the close of the evidence the attorney-general addresses the jury, and is followed by counsel for the defense. The attorney-general may then rejoin briefly for the purpose of correcting mistakes; and then the counsel for defense closes the argument in the same manner. During the argument, counsel on either side may read and comment on articles in newspapers, private letters and telegrams, anything, whether introduced in evidence or not. Formerly the judge summed up the evidence after the English fashion; but that privilege was taken away in 1881; hence the jury are at present sent to their room without instructions of any kind. On arriving there, they find on the wall a large placard on which are printed these words, being a copy of Article 342 of the Code of Criminal Procedure:
“The law does not require that jurors shall render any account of the methods by which they reach a conclusion; prescribes no rules upon which must depend the amount or sufficiency of the evidence; it requires that they shall examine themselves thoroughly and seriously, seeking in the sincerity of their consciences what impression the evidence, both for the prosecution and for the defense, has made on their minds. The law does not say to them, “You shall take for true what is proved by a certain number of witnesses,' nor ‘You shall not regard as sufficiently proved anything not based on written documents, or on the testimony of so many indications.' The law only asks of them this single question: ‘Have you a sincere personal conviction ?' It must be borne in mind that the deliberation of the jury must relate solely to the indictment; jurors must fix their attention on the facts charged in it, and which relate to them; and they will fail in their highest duty if they reflect on the reasons for the criminal laws, or the effect that their finding will have on the accused. Their mission has for its object neither the prosecution or punishment of crime; they are called on only to decide whether the accused is guilty of the crime with which he is charged."
If in seclusion the jury need any more light, they send for the president of the court, who goes into their room for consultation. What happens there is supposed not to transpire.
Seven jurors suffice to convict. If they are evenly divided the defendant stands acquitted. A hung jury is impossible. It is, of course, equally impossible to say on what ground, under the French practice, the verdict is rendered. Is it on the opinions of witnesses concerning the guilt or innocence of the accused? Or on the slashing articles in the newspapers which the jurors have diligently read? Or on a multitude of idle and more or less conflicting rumors? Or on the prevailing sentiment of the audience as manifested in the court room! Or on the testimony of witnesses knowing the facts of which they speak! No one can tell. The verdict is simply a plebiscitum. The fact that the presiding judge prosecutes does not seem to swell the number of convictions. In Paris, the acquittals amount to about 31 per cent; in London, to about 13 per cent of those who are indicted.
Verdicts in France are practically final unless for some incurable defect of form or jurisdiction, in which case an appeal is allowed. The judges of the Assize cannot grant new trials; but the Court of Cassation can set aside a judgment and order a new trial when satisfied that the judgment has been obtained on false or forged testimony. In point of fact, that court rarely interferes.
As to trial of libel cases against newspapers, the law clearly favors the defendants. It is well known that French newspapers indulge in a good deal of license. Each newspaper is required by law to have the name of its manager printed on it in a conspicuous place, and he is made answerable for anything appearing in his sheet; though the writer of the articles complained of may also be made a defendant if he can be found; but in case of a newspaper having a large corps of editors it is generally impossible to find him.
Supposing a suit to be brought, the newspaper editor gets the names of all of the jurors in the district, sends them copies of his paper gratis until the close of the trial, arguing his case in nearly every issue for their special benefit. When the manager comes into court, the jury are surprised to find a mild, rustic looking young man, who evidently would not hurt a fly. If a judgment is rendered against him, which rarely happens, it is discovered that his estate consists of his clothes and a lead pencil. If he is sent to prison, his friends provide him with delicacies and stay him with flagons until his time is out. He is a manager that does not manage; and being a hired scapegoat, he finds his berth rather an easy one. He regards himself as a martyr to the cause of truth; and his friends encourage that hallucination.
French jurists are not unaware of the defects of their jury system; but they cannot adopt that of England on account of the English law of evidence, which they know nothing about, and which has indeed grown into formidable proportions. Some of them advocate a system which has been adopted in parts of Germany and Switzerland, called in German, Schöffergericht and in French, l'échevinage, but for which we have no name in English, so far as I know; a kind of blend between trial by judges and trial by jury. The court is composed of a presiding judge learned in the law and either four or six lay judges. The presiding judge generally holds office for life; but the lay judges only hold for a month or two. A majority may convict. The plan has at least the merit of simplicity, and seems to have given general satisfaction.
But the courts and juries in France are well enough