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Books: The Law’s Delay

3 minute read


As a lawyer, Arthur Train has been assistant district attorney of New York County. As a writer, he has authored 40 books from love stories (The Needle’s Eye) to firsthand reporting of his police and court experiences (Courts, Criminals and the Camorra). But most people know Arthur Train as the creator of tall, gaunt, kindly, shrewd, humorous, cigar-smoking Lawyer Ephraim Tutt, who by using the tricks of the law to outsmart the tricks of the law, manages to evoke a brand of justice that, if not strictly according to Blackstone, is humane and just.

In his latest book Author-Lawyer Train moves to modernize antiquated laws and legal procedure, make justice just without having to outsmart the law. Taking his Prisoner at the Bar (published in 1905 but still in demand) as a basis, he drew again on his police and court experience to produce From the District Attorney’s Office, a popular account of justice, how it works and how it fails, with liberal proposals for making it work better.

How much dead wood has to be hacked away before the course of true justice can be made to run straight, he makes clear in discussions of the nature of crime, arrest, the jury, the judge, tricks of the trade, fool laws. Clinching his points with many a keenly human story, he reviews such legal circuses as the trial of Bruno Hauptmann (Author Train thinks Hauptmann got what he should have got but not the way he should have got it), a legal lynching like that of Leb Frank, who, though probably innocent, was convicted of rape by a Georgia jury in 1914, later physically lynched.

Author Train takes his best pokes at screwball laws. Samples: a Los Angeles ordinance forbidding “more than one person bathing in or occupying a bathtub at the same time”; a statute stating that “when two trains approach each other at a crossing, both shall stop and neither shall start until the other has gone.”

To speed criminal justice and to prevent lawyers and clients from outsmarting justice by legal tricks, Author-Lawyer Train suggests that: 1) cases should be tried in court, not in the yellow press; 2) suspects should be examined before trial in the presence of their counsel; 3) jury verdicts should not have to be unanimous (in murder cases, eleven out of twelve is enough, in other cases, a lesser number); 4) the use of peremptory challenges should be cut down, practically abolished. He adds: “The history of criminal legislation, however, suggests that none of these obvious reforms will be adopted at least during this generation.”

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