Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

cate for Jaussion having objected to the testimony of a domestic belonging to the family of the murdered man, that his statement before the court went much further than his deposition before the judge of instruction, M. Fauldès gets up without ceremony, and informs the court, that his servant ought to be easily excused for the omission, inasmuch as he himself could scarcely, at first, bring himself to believe in the guilt of Jaussion (then on his trial). “I was in my bed,' said M. Fauldès, when at the approach of that person I felt an indescribable horror, so much so, that I shrunk beneath the clothes to avoid his sight. It was then, as if by inspiration, I felt convinced he had been the principal instigator of the murder of my father! All this goes without a word of caution from any body to the jury. M. Fauldès, as attentive to the inspirations of others as to his own, requested the court to order a file of armed men to be placed between the prisoners and Ma. dame Manson, that she might feel reassured; this arrangement of the scenery took place, and had a striking effect. Madame Manson played her part still more interestingly; she assured M. Fauldès, with whom she carried on the dialogue, that to discover the assassins of his father, she would give all she had— All, she added with a sigh, 'but my son!

Is it not strange, is it not most lamentable, that there should not be found one person in France to point out how unworthy all this miserable mummery is of a court of justice, to indicate the folly and the enormity of permitting melo-dramatic scenes of mocksensibility to be acted before a jury assembled to try men on life or death: to show the judgment seat is degraded, and the moral principle that can alone sustain its dignity, injured, when a judge declares to a witness, in the situation of Madame Manson, that she is an angel commissioned from heaven to reveal the truth! Is it not fearful that it should not strike one Frenchman to maintain, that life and character can only be safe in a country where justice takes a calm, dry, and deliberate course in pursuing its investigations, limiting its proceedings to the establishment of absolute facts, and carefully excluding from access into the tribunal, not only the heated imaginations of individuals, but also those natural emotions, which, if honourable to friends and relations, lose their respectability when paraded in public, and which ought never to be permitted to disturb the gravity of an official inquiry. That the multitude should be rash, violent, and prejudiced, with reference to an enormous crime, is not to their discredit; but here are judges and lawyers, substituting heroics in the place of deliberation, and, instead of opposing the necessary checks to tumultuous precipitation and mistake, as their stations call upon them to do, joining the general extravagance, as if fearful to lose their share of the eclat! Is it illiberal to suggest in what a very different and how much more respectable a manner, such an affair would have been conducted in this country? A woman of the character of Madame Manson might have been permitted to amuse the public in matters of a less tremendous character than an assassination; our people may be fooled to the top of their bent in

[ocr errors]

things; but luckily we do not so terribly confound what ought to be kept immeasurably separate. When a certain barrier is passed, the public mind in this country returns to seriousness and reflection; and those whose peculiar duty it is to give the signal when trifling ought to cease, have not yet been found to be totally regardless of that sacred charge.

The astonishment of our readers will be increased when they find the chief judge exclaiming, in the middle of the trial, to the two prisoners, Bastide and Jaussion,— You certainly were in Bancal's house; TELL US which of you saved the life of a female?' To the woman Bancal he said, you know you are guilty;' and then exhorted her to look at the figure of Christ, suspended over his head, and no longer conceal the truth! After this, it is scarcely necessary to observe, that the humane and just rule of our law, that no prisoner can be called upon to criminate himself, has no place in French theory or practice. On the contrary if the accused do not criminate themselves by avowals, the judges tell them that they have done so sufficiently by their silence or their denials. Questions of the most indecent and apalling nature are put from the bench to the accused, in a tone of severity, and often of sarcasm, which would scarcely be permitted to advocates in England (free as they are in this respect) towards an unconcerned witness. The judges cover the prisoners on their trials with reproaches; charge them with falsehoqds; enter into contestations with them; declare that they are caught before the jury, and so forth. In England, the judge is held to be officially counsel for the accused; in France, he appears to be his natural and inveterate enemy. Independently of the inhumanity of this practice, it is necessarily fatal to that solemnity and majesty which ought to mantle the judgment seat in the eyes of society.

The president having again affirmed, by way of address to Bastide, that he was in the house of Bancal the night of the murder, Madame Manson suddenly exclaimed,' avow wretch!' This indecent interruption would have been severely rebuked with us,but in France all hearts trembled,' says the reporter. She had just declared, be it remembered, that she knew nothing of the affair; yet there appears to have been no one in court, not even the counsel for the prisoners, to charge the jury, as they valued their consciences, to dismiss entirely from their attention the mountebank tricks of this infamous woman. A. M. Amans Rodat is then invited by the judge to state in court a sort of metaphysical lecture, which he delivered one day to Madame Manson, on the propriety of speaking the truth, when examined in a case affecting men's lives, and the punishment of murder. After several modest excuses, he commenced the repetition of his discourse, in which he told her, that, if a wicked world should judge of her by appearances,' (in consequence of her having been in a brothel) it would at the same time say, as has been said of our first mother, oh, happy fault!' 'Go on! speak, sir!' said the president, 'your words may serve for public instruction.'

We can conceive nothing more calculated to devest the jury of the power of keeping their minds impartially fixed on substantial facts, and even to fill them with the most deadly prejudices, than the desultory, vague, and vulgar style in which the official act of accusation is drawn up. It is long and historical, with no appearance of technical precision about it. It enters at large into all the reports and surmises of the neighbourhood, lays great stress on public opinion as directed against particular individuals, and relates all the extravagant stories which any great crime is sure to set afloat, in the inflated style of a common newspaper, desirous to sell a second edition by the attraction of its horrors.

By the French law it seems to be the duty of the nearest magistrate to proceed to the spot where a crime has been committed, and there to collect and embody in a process verbal, every thing that any one shall choose to tell him, in the way either of opinion, hearsay, surmise, or knowledge, in regard to the offence. Persons are designated by individuals as objects of public suspicion; and when so designated, the magistrate receives from all mouths, anecdotes of their private lives, no matter how distant the date, or how remote from any connexion with the fact that has occasioned his official researches. All this mass of terrible matter is read to the jury on the trial. In our courts it is perhaps the principal care of the judge to impress on the jury, that they are to drive every thing from their minds but what they shall hear in court; that they are to discharge from their memories, if possible, even, every report and circumstance which they may have known out of doors; and that, if any thing should escape, even within the walls of the court, that is not evidence according to legal rules accurately defined, it ought to have no share in the formation of their verdict. In France, on the contrary, if we are to believe the report of the trial of the accused murderers of M. Fauldès, the procureur-general laid down the astonishing doctrines, that the jury ought to judge by their impressions, and even their sensations, and that it was an error to suppose legal proofs of a determined character necessary! Should it have happened that his words on this important point have not been exactly reported (a supposition to which we are almost driven by the monstrous nature of the principle), it is but too certain, that the evidence was received in conformity to this system. Two hundred and forty witnesses for the prosecution is a number only to be accounted for by the fact, that all who pleased to offer a deposition were received, no matter whether what they had to say, had, or had not any connexion with the guilt or innocence of the prisoners. In several cases the ridicule thrown upon the name of judicial investigation, was as great as the insult offered to justice. Will our readers believe that, in France, in the year 1817, a witness was permitted to make the following statement as regular evidence against a man on trial for his life? J. Vignes, who described himself as professor, being sworn and questioned, declared as follows:

• I met Bastide on the 19th of March, about two o'clock in the day, on the Boulevart d'Estourmel, below the garden of Mr. Seguret. I said to my companion, “ That man looks like a rogue." “ He belongs to a respectable family, however," said my friend. “ No matter," replied I; “ He carries a bad look with him.” More late in the day I was in the shop of M. Fontana, the jeweller, with the same person: Bastide again passed: I was seized with horror, and hastily retired into the shop. “You will get yourself into a quarrel,” said my companion, “I cannot help it; I am not master of myself," I replied. When I heard of the affair in which he was involved, I felt no surprise, and I observed to my friend that I was not deceived.'

This is the whole of the witness's deposition! Happily we have judges, who, if they had had patience to hear him out, would have asked when he had finished, What does this man prove, except his own consummate folly? Bastide, however, is questioned by the president what he has to say to this testimony! Though the presumptions are very grave against the prisoner, one can scarcely help feeling respect for him, compared with his judges, when we find him contenting himself with congratulating the department, on having a professor who was so good a physiognomist! Five or six witnesses are brought in, merely to say, that they had heard from others, that these others had heard it reported, that Mr. Fualdès had been watched for a considerable time before his death. A justice of peace is examined, who commences his testimony by declaring that he has nothing at all to say in regard to the murder, but that he has been told that eighteen years ago Bastide opened a cabinet at his brother's, and took out some papers! For the first and only time, one of the counsel here rose; and said that the jury ought to distrust the reasonings and surmises of witnesses, who should confine themselves to plain and applicable facts. The court, who had listened with interest to the physiognomist, stopped the advocate in this proper discharge of his duty, and begged that its time might not be occupied by such unnecessary remarks! In the act of accusation, it is said that Colard, one of the prisoners, had been heard to declare, that he would take any one's life

ould take any one's life away for twenty-five louis; that the good things of the world were not well divided; that the rich had more than their share; and that if every one were of his mind, those who had nothing would take where they could. The jury were so struck by this passage, that they desired it might be read to them twice, though it had no earthly connexion with the case they had to try; and the judge, in his charge, particularly alluded to this atrocious speech, as he called it-so much the more improperly introduced, as it has a direct bearing on the political opinions that have so long agitated France, and was therefore very likely to excite in the breasts of some of the jury, feelings of prejudice against the prisoner totally irrelevant to the crime with which he stood charged. The sanction given to stories of this nature by repetition from the organs of authority, must have a very strong effect on the minds of the mayor villages and other petty functionaries in country places,

of which description of persons we observe the jury in this case was principally composed. The liberty of raking together all the loose floating matter which scandal or mistake may have scattered, and to convert it into a substitute for regular evidence, when people's tempers and imaginations are disturbed by the commission of a great crime close to their homes, must expose the best intentioned persons to the hazard of being betrayed into dreadful error-a hazard which ought to make all who may be employed in such investigations tremble for themselves, and which may well alarm every friend of justice and humanity, much more those unhappy individuals whom accident may expose to the enmity or misapprehension of authority thus mischievously armed. The advantage of strict, and even narrow general rules to confine the reception of evidence, is, that being applicable alike to all cases, they counteract the effects of a disposition to oppression, or the influence of delusion in particular instances. That no such disposition or influence could exist, would on each separate occasion be affirmed with zeal, and most frequently with the consciousness of sincerity; but the unanimous voice of history too well proves, that the members of society are only safe in the fixed impartiality of general regulations, controlling or excluding the exercise of discretionary power.

All the follies, scandals, surmises, and irrelevant facts, stated by such witnesses as we have been regarding (and many others were received equally idle) were mixed up together in the speech of the public accuser to the jury. On the strength of these, and not with reference to the murder, he styled Bastide a monster such as nature seldom engenders. Quoting stories, which rest on no foundation that would entitle them to be listened to in common conversation, he asked if such a man would hesitate to murder Mr. Fualdès for 26,000 francs, although nothing like regular proof had been offered of the pecuniary interest which this prisoner had in the death of the murdered person. On the other hand, the falsehoods and tricks of Madame Manson he ascribes to a character naturally generous, sentimental, and elevated! He observes that though she had not criminated Jaussion, the jury would draw a conviction against him from her exclamations and her gestures! Upon this prisoner he then turns short round, to abuse him for habitual usuary and hard dealing—a circumstance neither proved, nor entitled to be proved, on the trial.

The decision of the jury against the prisoners we have already stated, together with the quashing of the whole proceeding by the Court of Cassation: but it is not to be supposed that the circumstances which we have pointed out as gross improprieties, had any share in producing this decree. None of these, in fact, would be regarded as improprieties in France. The principal informality lay, as we have said, in the administration of the oath to the wit

To prevent mistake we will here also repeat, that it is not our wish to leave an impression on the minds of our readers that the persons condemned are innocent: we have said that the proba

19

nesses.

VOL. XII.

« ÎnapoiContinuați »