Hooper, J. P., on the Law's Delays
by Ellis Parker Butler
Our eminent jurist, Justice of the Peace Lem Hooper, had just fined an automobile speeder twenty-five dollars and costs and the whole case had taken less than a minute. Officer Furtig had brought in the law-breaker, and had given his testimony by saying, "Speedin', yer honor; I timed him." Judge Hooper had then said to the culprit, "Were you speeding?" "Well, Judge," the guilty man had answered, "if this town will make a fool law holding a man down to twenty-five miles --" "Twenty-five dollars and costs!" Judge Hooper had said, and the case was completed.
"I'm for quick work, Durfey," Judge Hooper had remarked to Court Officer Durfey. "When a man's guilty the sooner the law hands him his verdict the better it is for one and all. When I read of some of the cases, with the delays -- my! my!"
"They do be a bit leisurely-like, some of them," agreed Durfey.
"Leisurely-like!" exclaimed Judge Hooper. "The way a criminal is rushed to punishment these days makes me think the statue of Justice should not be the hoodwinked lady with the scales but a lame snail dragging a ten-ton road roller up Pike's Peak on a midwinter day. A day when the snow is four feet deep on the average, Durfey, but drifted considerable in front of the lawyer's house. The motto in the Court House should be changed from 'Let justice be done though the heavens fall' to the more appropriate one of 'Pike's Peak or bust, and we don't care if it takes twenty-seven years.'
"In the midst of life we are near death, Durfey, unless we have committed a murder and then we are near an appeal on the ground that when the prosecuting attorney asked the witness 'Is you?' he should have asked him 'Am you?' (counsel for the accused objecting; objection over-ruled). To the man that murders his mother-in-law with an axe the best authorities no longer say 'Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die,' but 'If I don't happen to be alive when your trial is ended my grandson will attend to the appeal to the higher court; as soon as he is weaned we mean to enter him in the Law School and if all goes well he should be admitted to the bar twenty-five or thirty years from now.'
"If I had some mighty important business to transact six months from now, Durfey, and wanted to be sure I was alive to attend to it, I would step out and murder the first man I met. The lawyers would attend to the rest, the judges assisting. The State, with admirable beneficence, would feed and clothe and house me for six months or so, and then the technicalities of the law would begin and I could settle down to enjoy a long and care-free career on the front page of the newspaper.
"The average man, Durfey, is satisfied if he can see life and fodder for a month ahead -- beyond that he does not worry much; he may be dead by then. The tough guy hopes no more than that. As things are, Durfey, if he goes out and murders the boss of the other gang tonight, in plain sight, he improves his chances of life to a great extent. He says, 'I should worry! It will be a long time before the last word is said and who knows but the end of the world may come before then anyway.' So he puts a big lead slug in the gun and goes forth.
"It would not surprise me if an insurance company that had turned a man down because of the hacking cough that threatened an early death would hurry to sign him up for a fine policy when it heard he had murdered me. He would be good for a year or two anyway, with a fine chance that he would live to be one hundred, with the State patching him up and giving him a good long trial and, maybe, a nice rest from all worry for twenty years or so on top of it.
"There is no nonsense in justice, Durfey, but a lot in the way the modern justice-shop allows the criminal's lawyer to amuse the honorable court by balancing a flea's hair on the end of his nose. The time may come, Durfey, when a respectable murderer, whose trial has been going on since he was a tender youth, may come weeping into court and beg the judge to pity his gray hairs and let him die peacefully now that he is old and feeble. 'Your honor,' he will say, 'my trial has been going on for seventy years now and for the last ten years I have been wanting to pass on, but they won't let me. Twenty years ago I was as good as dead, your honor, but the state wouldn't have it that way; my trial was not ended. They grafted monkey glands on me, your honor. And every few years since then they've grafted a new kind of gland onto me, and braced me up, and set me going again. They won't let me die. For the sake of mercy, your honor, end the trial and hang me, or let me die in peace!' I'm sorry,' the judge will say, 'but the Supreme Court has just sent back the documents in your case and orders a new trial. But I think,' he will say, 'we can promise you a final decision before you are as old as Methuselah.'"
"But, your honor," said Durfey, "the minute technicalities that cause the delays are to assure the prisoner full justice."
"Either that, Durfey," said Judge Hooper, "or to let the lawyers show off in public."