Contempt Of Court Essay, Research Paper
In this age of computers and fax machines, we as a people have devised and set up laws that protect us and keep us on the right track. However these laws and rights that each American shares and enjoys today, have not always existed. Common people, who were forced to face injustices and were ?railroaded? by the system because at that time, no one before them sought to challenge the laws or there was no need to change them, has fought them for. Even though, these laws were changed and new ones were put in their place back in the early part of this century, when they were still new, there was still a problem. Some of these laws and rights were somehow looked over when the subject of race came up. For example, in the book Contempt of Court, Leroy Phillips and Mark Curriden tell about the story of Ed Johnson. Johnson was a black man who lived in Chattanooga at the turn of the century. Now, Johnson himself was not really of any importance. He didn?t invent a new way of picking cotton or discover a cure for some prevalent disease that was sweeping the countryside, nothing like that at all. In fact he was a nobody, just a common person, with a poor education to boot. The only thing that is important about Johnson is his case, State of Tennessee v. Johnson, in which Ed Johnson was accused of the crime of rape, but not just raping anyone, a white woman, and not just any white woman, but a young, white woman in the South at the turn of the century. Johnson, being a black man and being accused of such a heinous crime did not win him any fans, which is the reason for the importance of this case. Because he was black and it was early in the century only forty years after the Civil War, the people of Chattanooga were outraged and wanted quick justice. They didn?t really care if they had the right man as long as he was black and somewhat fit the description of the perpetrator. This is part of the reason that Johnson?s case is important, because of pressures like this and racism running amuck he was denied some of his rights as a citizen and his trial was erred. Johnson was wronged not only in court but also by the civilization itself.
The book starts off with lawyers Noah Parden and Emanuel D. Molyneaux Hewlett, standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Their reason for being there was simple yet complex at the same time. They had traveled there to see Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan and convince him to give Ed Johnson a black man in Chattanooga, a stay of execution so the Supreme Court could review his case and see how he was wronged. The reason Parden and Hewlett went to see Justice Harlan was because of his compassion for the ?colored? people and the poor. Also because of the way he viewed the law. ?He believed in equal rights and equal protection under the law? (p.10). The most obvious of his views was in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which had to do with segregation in railroad coaches. Even after seven other justices signed off on the idea that segregation should not stigmatize black people, Justice Harlan dissented and blasted his fellow justices for being so bigoted in their decision-making. After waiting forever on Justice Harlan, they were finally allowed to see him and discuss their case. Parden told the old judge that their defendant who was ?certainly innocent, but who [was] never been afforded the presumption of innocence.? This statement could not be truer. From the moment they picked him up and arrested him, Johnson was considered guilty, no doubt to his guilt; he fit the general description of the evildoer, so they obviously had the right man. Hatred filled the air around the town and the local newspapers did not do anything to help the issue either. The Chattanooga News had headlines that helped fuel the rage of the town. Headlines like, Brutal Crime of Negro Fiend and Details Shock Entire Community. No wonder the news shocks the entire community, probably because of the fact that the local paper told them they were shocked. Also dressing up the criminals description to make him sound terrifying by calling him a ?Negro fiend? probably helped incite the first riot at the jail, in which the local townspeople tried to lynch the frightened Johnson.
Of course, Johnson was wronged so many other ways. To be more precise there were specific violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. First of all his jury was not exactly made up of his peers. In fact there was not a black man on that jury. The entire jury was made up of middle-aged, white men. Also the jury was biased and tainted. Considering that in the middle of the trial two separate jurors had made either derogatory statements or threatening gestures toward Johnson. ?When jurors have to be restrained, how can that be a fair trial? (P.14)? Johnson did catch one break, that is if you could call it that and that was when he was appointed a lawyer to represent him which is a right, now guaranteed in all states by the case Gideon v. Wainwright. However, this was already a guaranteed right in Tennessee at this time. As a result, Johnson was appointed three lawyers. However, two of the lawyers appointed to defend Ed Johnson had never handled a criminal case before and Cameron, one of Johnson?s lawyers was considered little more than a paralegal. The judge also kind of gave them a hint too, when he told them that they were going to be working pro bono, meaning they would receive no compensation for their work, which meant that he did not expect them to invest a lot of time or effort in their representation of Ed Johnson. Also because of the likeliness of a riot the Johnson?s defense was not given adequate time to prepare their case, as a matter of fact, after their appointment to the case, they had a week, maybe less to get ready for trial. Also to prevent a riot from happening Ed Johnson?s defense, was not allowed to file a motion for a change of venue or a motion to move the trial back at least a month. Johnson was also wronged in the fact the even his own lawyers, either fearing that the lynch mob might turn on them or worrying that their reputations in the community might be irreparably harmed, had betrayed their client by encouraging him to waive his rights to appeal. Johnson?s life was on the line and nobody could do anything about it.
There were other faults that were committed during the investigation of the crime and during the crime. For instance, during the investigation and questioning of Nevada Taylor, she had admitted that she had not gotten a good look at her attacker. Her description of the offender was he was ?5 feet six inches or maybe a little taller. He wore a black outfit and a hat. His arms were thick with muscles.? And then when she was asked if her attacker was black or white she hesitated for a minute as if she were unclear. In fact when they had Johnson and Broaden in front of her so that she could identify one of them as her attacker and she had to scrutinize them for fifteen minutes before she finally decided on the defendant. Also, during the trial, when Johnson?s lawyer, W. G. Thomas was cross-examining Dr. Wilson. The doctor said that he ?believed she had been raped? and was not asked to give proof or additional evidence supporting his claim. This showed that Thomas was inexperienced and had no business in this trial. Another witness credibility problem was with Will Hixson who apparently saw Ed Johnson in the area of the attack carrying a leather strap like the one used against the victim, but only came forward only after he was offered a $375 reward. Besides that, Johnson had at least a dozen people whom remembered seeing him at the Last Chance Saloon, which was at least a mile away, sitting around having a drink around the time of the attack. Also another point for Johnson was that when they were searching his room they did not find Nevada Taylor?s purse. However, incidentally the other night there did occur a purse snatching in that same area.
Because of the politically motivated sheriff and judge, and the DA Johnson was railroaded through the criminal justice system. His rights were violated to further the careers of some tyrannical law officials and to satisfy the hunger of death for the bloodthirsty lynch mob that waited outside the courthouse so they could have their vengeance. By today?s standards Johnson?s arrest and trial would be considered a mockery of the American Justice System.
Contempt of Court
CJP 1110 Procedures/ Evidence in Criminal Justice
April 3, 2000