The seat of justice

It was on the radio: Fellow sold stolen goods to an undercover policeman and was fined for possessing stolen goods. He appealed, and his lawyer argued that in selling the goods to a policeman he was merely assisting the police in what was their proper duty anyway -- to return stolen property to its rightful owner. The higher court agreed, and overturned the lower court's ruling.

My wife was lately drawn for jury duty, so we have been sensitive to such refinements of jurisprudence. When the notice came, there was a questionnaire with it so she could establish her qualifications, and also her willingness. She responded that she would be honored thus to perform a public duty, and off she went to leave me a cold and lonely sandwich in the refrigerator. But she would come home, sometimes before I finished my sandwich, lamenting that the lawyers passed her by. Day after day. I suggested she enroll for the Dale Carnegie course and learn how to become popular. Then, one day, she stayed all day, and came home happy. She had served. Dealt with minor infraction. The lawyer for the defense manfully and artfully earned his fee, but the decision was unanimous. Guilty. And on that note she was dismissed and I haven't had a chilled sandwich since.

There was a case that came to my attention some years ago, and on an appeal I think I might have voted for a reversal. These two men, neighbors, took turns driving to business, and one evening on the way home the man who was driving miscued and took a corner so fast that he bounced off the curbstone and made quite a squeal as he dragged his brakes. The officer standing there signalled to pull over. Now, the man who was not driving said, ''Shift places, quick -- I know this cop and can talk to him!''

So when the officer came walking up, pulling his summons book from his pocket , it turned out he was a new man on the beat and the non-driver, now behind the wheel, didn't know him from a keg of Morse's sauerkraut. Which means that the non-driver is now scheduled to appear in court one week from the following Tuesday to answer a charge of reckless driving and driving to endanger. The real driver had a deep and sympathetic pang at this come-uppance, and felt it was only right for him to do what he could. So he told the non-driver to get a lawyer and have the case continued.

The lawyer, unaware that his client was not guilty for reason of changed places, advised the non-driver to plead nolom and pay the fine. Easiest way out. No damage done, and the fine shouldn't be more than fifty dollars. Why spend more than that? Continuances cost money.

''No,'' said the real driver, ''continue the case and wait. You'll see!''

Still advising against it, the lawyer continued the case several times, and then one day the real driver came to the non-driver, and he said, ''Go to court next Monday morning! Everything's going to be all right!''

The lawyer said, ''So what have you gained? You'll still have to pay the fine , and me besides. You could have wrapped the whole thing up two months ago.''

But the appearance was made, and what do you think? In comes the jury, and there in the front row was the driver himself! He had contrived to get himself on the jury and everything was going to be, as he said, all right!

The policeman gave his testimony. A vehicle had negotiated an intersection at excessive speed, bounding off the granite limits of the right of way, had then proceeded out of control 217 feet, 2 3/4 inches, and had come to rest in the opposite lane. Yes, the gentleman there (pointing) was at the wheel. He had made the arrest for reckless driving and driving to endanger.

The lawyer for the defense made effort enough to warrant his fee, and knew it was wasted. But the defendant sat serenely confident, smiling at his good friend on the jury. The jury was out just two minutes. It returned a unanimous Guilty.

Stunned, the non-driver jumped up and shouted, ''But Judge, your honor! I'm not him -- he's me!'' (The real driver said later that he was carried away by the policeman's convincing testimony.)

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