Sunday, June 26, 2016

Leibowitz - The First Case

Samuel Leibowitz - Courtesy America Pink 
This is the eight post of the series 'LegalTrek'. The last post was 'Courtroom - Finest Legal Biography' and this post is about how Samuel Leibowitz got his first case and what happened ti it. 

LegalTrek
How I Became A Lawyer।। Allahabad High Court Is Born।। Lucknow Bench - Historical Necessity।। Introduction to Setalvad।। Benches and The Law Commission।। Court of Appeal – Not A Good Idea: Some Suggestions।। Courtroom - Finest Legal Biography।। Leibowitz - The First Case



Leibowitz began his practise as a briefless lawyer. This is exactly how most of us begin our careers. The court generally appoints a new entrant as a friend of the court for the accused who are not able to afford services of a lawyer. It not only encourages them but they have the time too.  This is how Leibowitz got his first case. 

The accused in that case was charged for breaking open a saloon and stealing, money and liquor. The next day he was found drunk, in the drain, and with a key in his pocket by which he was suspected to have opened the lock of the saloon. He also confessed to the crime before the police. Unlike our country, where confessions before the police cannot be proved under sections 25 and 26 of the Evidence Act, in the US such confessions are admissible. 

Leibowitz's colleagues advised him to confess the guilt of his client and opt for plea bargaining. He was in two minds: 
  • Should he admit the guilt of his client then the case would not be contested. In that event, he might not become famous; and 
  • If he did not then his client was likely to land up in the jail for longer period. 


Leibowitz pondered over the case for many nights. This is how good lawyers work. They are not like the fictional character Perry Mason, who used to think as the case went on. Good lawyers always ponder, re-ponder, and then ponder again over the weak as well as strong points of their case. This was what Leibowitz did and then he gambled: it was like a punch in the dark; it might just hit the bull's-eye. 

When the case started, Leibowitz did not plead guilty.  After the prosecution finished its case, the accused took the witness stand and deposed that he confessed to the crime because of the police torture. Then, Leibowitz asked, whether the District Attorney (the prosecuting counsel) (DA) had himself seen that the key found in the accused pocket opened the locks of the saloon or not. If he had not, then he invited the Judge and the Jury to come along with him to see for themselves if the key opened the locks of the saloon or not. If it could not then he submitted that his client could not be held guilty.

The DA had not personally seen whether the key opened the lock or not. He debated about the risk involved.  If the key did not open the lock then it would be very insulting. If it did, even then, at the most the accused would be convicted. There were thousands of such petty cases pending in the court and they had to be decided: was it worth spending the time? Considering the risk involved and the time factor, the DA chose to rest the case; so did the defence: and the jury did not take any time to acquit the accused. 

After the case was over, Leibowitz tried to open the locks of the courtrooms with that key. It opened all the locks: it was a kind of master-key. 

The newspaper did not talk about the case but in the jail, prisoners talked about it; in the court, the lawyers talked about it. And from here, his fame started rising: the key opened the door to his success.

In the next post, we will talk about a book 'The Art of Cross-Examination' by Francis L wellman and another  case dealt by Leibowitz.

#LegalTrek #YatindraSingh 
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