Court TV Host: You may know about the
medieval procedures of trial by fire and water,
but did you know that European lawyers once
prosecuted dead bodies, inanimate objects and
animals? Did you also know that all these
practices actually played a role in the
development of the world's modern legal systems?
Find out how -- chat with lawyer and barrister
Sadakat Kadri, author of the new book, The Trial:
A History from Socrates to O.J. Simpson.
Court TV Host: He was just on Catherine
Crier Live...and now he's here to chat with
Court TV Host: Welcome, Mr. Kadri,
thanks for being our guest online today.
Sadakat Kadri: Hi. Thanks a lot for
having me on.
Question from Alison:
How long did it take to research your book?
Sadakat Kadri: I spent about four years,
two and a half of them in New York. I decided that
if I was going to write on the criminal trial, I
should be where it's biggest - and that of course
is the US. I spent some time in actual courtrooms,
but a lot just researching old transcripts.
Question from kiara:
Welcome Sadakat_Kadri....what are the top five
trials in terms of legal precedent?
Sadakat Kadri: Now that's a tricky
question. So many old trials reflect aspects of
the modern system without being actual precedents.
The trials of animals and dead people, for
example, seem absurd to us nowadays,but there are
still plenty of people who think it almost
irrelevant whether a criminal knows that what s/he
did is wrong - until two years ago, it was
constitutional to execute mentally retarded people
or people who were children when they committed
their crimes. But if you want a list of my top
five in terms of their impact on our modern
understanding of the trial process, it'd probably
be . . . Socrates, Salem, Scopes, Nuremberg and
maybe even O.J.
Question from RachelC:
Do you think there will come a time when public
executions return? I think modern society seems
more and more like ancient Rome as time goes on,
in lots of ways.
Sadakat Kadri: In my book, I show that
the public trial in many ways became the spectacle
that it is with the abolition of public executions
in the mid-nineteenth century. It was then that
court reporting became a feature of the mass media
across the U.S. and Europe. Like you, I think the
Rome parallel is an interesting one. I use it in
my book, when I talk about a ruling down in Texas
a couple of years ago - the judge wanted to allow
cameras not just into court, but into the jury
room And the jury wasn't deliberating on
conviction but on whether to execute. The thumbs
up and thumbs down might yet return, you're
Question from wn: Is
our society more or less punitive or "harsh" today
than in "olden times?"
Sadakat Kadri: I show in my book that
there have *always* been two aspects to the trial.
On the one hand, there's been a fear of punishing
the wrong person - but there's also been a deep
longing to convict the right one. History has seen
societies constantly swing between the two poles.
I argue that the last fifty years has seen a major
swing in the US towards punishment for its own
sake. You see it in the movies, apart from
anything else. Back in the fifties and sixties,
the defense lawyer was always the hero - think
Gregory Peck and Henry Fonda. Now, in the days of
minimum sentences and three strikes, we've got
shows like Law and Order - and it's all but
impossible to imagine defendant or defender as
Question from hammy:
Why do you think the US has opted to hold on to
the death penalty when some of their other western
counterparts have abandoned the death penalty?
Sadakat Kadri: I'm personally very
opposed to the death penalty, but I have to
recognize that it's popular - even, to some
extent, still in the UK - and I think the extent
of local democracy here has got something to do
with it. Judges aren't elected on abolitionist
tickets, politicians who want to kill criminals
will get more votes than those who think fighting
crime requires a little more thought. The *desire*
to execute isn't unique to the U.S. however. The
urges to be merciful and to execute, like much
else in the field of criminal justice, seems to
come in cycles though - and I hope that the US
might change direction in due course.
Question from PapaJim:
Is it true that in Salem that in the Witch trials
some were hung some were drowned but none were
burned, though many people continue to think
Sadakat Kadri: No. All nineteen
defendants who were executed were hanged. Giles
Corey was pressed to death for refusing to plead.
Burning was traditionally used to punish witches
on continental Europe and Scotland, which had
inquisitorial type systems. It was used for
heretics and traitors, but never witches in
England; as far as I'm aware, no American colony
used it punish witchcraft either.
Question from Alison:
do you have a favorite trial?
Sadakat Kadri: That's another really
tricky question - there are so many types of
answers I could give. I love some of the weirder
and more macabre ones I cover - like the trials of
werewolves and pigs - but I'm going to say that my
favorite is one of those that moved me most while
I was researching my book. It's one that Clarence
Darrow took on very soon after Scopes - involving
a black guy called Henry Sweet, who killed a white
member of a would-be lynch mob to protect his
brother. The jury members were all white, and the
case took place in the racially charged atmosphere
of Detroit in the 1920s - but Darrow made what he
regarded as the strongest speech of his life, and
won a not guilty verdict. Even the judge ended the
case in tears. The trial has always had a very
dark side, and much of its history is drenched in
blood - but that case is a reminder that justice
is possible, and always worth arguing for.
Court TV Host: Thanks for being our
Sadakat Kadri: Thanks again for having
me on, and for all the questions that were sent
in. It's been a real pleasure.