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Intro to Criminal Law

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Intro to Criminal Law Summer Assignment

“Gentlemen of the jury, I’m curious, bear with me Are you aware that we’re making hist’ry? This is the first murder trial of our brand-new nation, the liberty behind deliberation—” - Alexander Hamilton, My Shot

On March 31 and April 1, 1800, People from all over Manhattan crowded themselves into the circuit courtroom. Gulielma "Elma" Sands’ death had been spoken in hushed tones ever since they found her body in the Manhattan Well on January 2, 1799. Her corpse had been publicly displayed in front of Elma’s old boarding house for all to see. The cold weather let hundreds of people visit her before her casket was closed and given a proper home. The enraged Ring family (owners of the boarding house Elma resided in) wanted to make sure Levi Weeks (another border at the Ring household) would pay for his supposed crimes.

Levi Weeks was a contractor that worked with his brother (Ezra Weeks) on projects for the city and the wealthy people residing in it, such as the Hamilton Grange and the Gracie Mansion. When the "police" bring Levi Weeks to jail, the three top lawyers were immediately contracted to be his defense, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and Henry Brockholst Livingston.

And so the case started. The 12 male jurors were sworn in. The judge was Chief Justice John Lansing who, like Burr and Hamilton, was a politician. The prosecutor was Assistant Attorney General Cadwallader David Colden who needed to win this case to prove that New York had a Judicial System that could put murderers behind bars.

The very first witness was Elma’s Cousin, Catharine Ring who was interrupted by the defendants midsentence. They complained that she was relating hearsay by relating to the court something her cousin had asked her. After announcing a whole series of legal precedents, including one from Scotland, the judge told Ms. Ring to proceed (without hearsay). She then began to inform the jury that Elma had told her on the night of the twenty-second that she was going to marry Levi Weeks that night. Catharine Ring also stated that Levi weeks was quite agitated when he returned to the house at around ten o’clock at night. When cross-examined she admitted that Elma had more than once threatened about overdosing on Laudanum. One of the biggest arguments of the defense is based on this, if they could prove or even create suspicion that she had committed suicide, it would be an open and shut case.

The day wore on, and the lawyers interrogated the witnesses. At some point, a boy was brought up to the stand, but since he didn’t understand what an oath was, they relied on the father for the information. The prosecutor called a physician, and his statement didn't play for Levi Weeks’ team, the doctor stating that the bruising on Elma’s body could be a woman that could have suffered strangulation. The prosecutor was heavily relying on the witnesses that saw Elma and Levi. The only problem was that they didn't. Almost all of the witnesses, when cross-examined were proved unreliable by the defense.

An example of this was when the defense summoned another physician. This man was a well known and experienced doctor. He confirmed the previous doctor unreliable stating that the bruising was all made postmortem. After the physician had finished questioning, the former doctor had a change of heart and decided to recant what he had said before and agree with the physician.

Another argument that the prosecutor made was that Elma was pregnant and Levi Weeks was willing to kill Elma to make it all go away. Colden had witnesses called to the stand to say that Levi and Elma were frequently together, and sometimes they could hear indecent sounds coming from Elma's room. But the defense had prepared for that. They called up one of Elma's neighbors in the boardinghouse. When asked about the noises in Elma's room, the man confirmed that he heard indecent sounds coming from Elma's room in the springtime, but the voice of the man he heard was Mr. Ring's, the boardinghouse owner. The witness explained that this only occurred when Mrs. Ring went to the country and stopped when she come back.

The defense also made a point to tell the jury there was no evidence. The prosecutor had earlier dropped a powerful quote from John Morgan's Essays regarding the importance of proof drilling in the jury's mind that "Circumstantial evidence is all that can be expected, and indeed all that is necessary to substantiate such a charge." The only problem about this quote is that it is in regards to maritime law and isn't even regarding homicide, but rather the policy of insurance for an 110-pound cargo of oats. The prosecutors decided to fight

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