Famous Trial Writing Example

To: Prof. Donsky

From: Michael Alicea
RE: John Brown Trial
Date: May 2, 2012

Abolitionism is the movement for the ending the institution of slavery. In the 1800s one of the most famous American Abolitionist was John Brown. According to David S. Reynolds’ biography of John Brown, his actions are said to have sparked the civil war and brought about the realization of civil rights. John Brown was born May 9, 1800 in Connecticut to a family that was strongly against slavery. As Brown grew up his family moved to Michigan and at the age of twelve witnessed a befriended slave be subjected to beatings and other forms of punishments. It wasn’t until the age of seventeen that Brown joined his father in aiding runaway slaves from the Underground Railroad hiding them in the family cabin. The act that had solidified Brown’s abolitionist ways was the attack on the Harpers Ferry Armory in present day West Virginia, which led to the famous trial convicting Brown on the charges of treason, insurrection(slave rebellion) and first degree murder (Trial of John Brown: A Commentary).
John Brown planned on starting a slave rebellion by freeing slaves and with his men attacking and taking over the Harper Ferry Armory. Then to arm the newly freed slaves to fight against slavery by going town to town freeing slaves from their masters. The attack took place on October 16, 1859 when Brown and twenty one of his recruits took charge against the armory. They successfully took over the armory and kept hostages but the victory was short lived after Brown’s plans fell short of expectations. After a two day standoff and deaths of both Virginia officials and Brown’s men; he was captured along with four of his men. Brown was then kept in custody to face the charges against him on October 27, 1859 the day of his trial in Virginia State Circuit Courthouse.
The controversy did not stop with just Brown actions against the Harper’s Ferry Armory, the plot only thickened once the trial began. Brown was appointed a defense council from the court who was strongly opposed to Brown actions. Also with the heightened interest in the case the trial began within a week of Brown being charged with the offenses, the defense did not have enough time to create a valid argument to defend Brown. Among these things many motions the defense moved for were denied, when it can be argued they should have been granted. The district attorney for the prosecution was a man by the name of Charles Harding who after a problem with alcohol abuse was replaced by Andrew Hunter after just one day. The attorneys for the defense council were Lawson Botts, George H. Hoyt, Charles Faulkner and Charles Town. Faulkner and Town stepped down from the defense after Brown publicly stated his distrust and lack of confidence in them. An interesting fact about Mr. Hoyt is that he was an exception to the other defense attorneys he was from Massachusetts sent to Virginia to defend Brown by a man called John W. Le Barnes. Le Barnes was a strong abolitionist like Brown who supported his cause and wanted to aid in Brown’s case. (Virginia v. John Brown).
The defense council moved for several motions including postponing the trial to prepare a defense. As well as giving Brown time to heal from his injuries received from his capture to stand trial, all motions were denied by the Judge. Although their motions were denied the defense did not fall short of their valued efforts to create a defense in such a short time. They argued against the three charges as follows. The first charge was argued by stating only a person who is a resident of the state can be charged with treason and since Brown was not a resident of Virginia he should be acquitted of the charge. The court stated that it was an attack against the U.S. government and Virginia being a state of the U.S. it does constitute treason. On the charge of murder of Virginia citizens, the defense argued that Brown actually did not kill any of the men that were killed and that it was the men who were recruited by Brown, so he could not be held responsible for those murders. As to the charge of creating a slave insurrection the defense argued that since there were no actual slaves in the recruits who aided in the attack against the armory he could not be charged with creating a slave insurrection. Regardless of the defense councils efforts at the end of the trial, the jury after just 45 minutes of deliberation on November 2, 1859 John Brown was found guilty on all charges. He was then sentenced to death by hanging on December 2, 1859. (John Brown PBS)
In Today’s standards the questions to answer is whether John Brown would be found guilty the same way he was back in the 1800s? Also how would a modern jury view this case as opposed to the jury back in the 1800s? In my opinion I believe that John Brown would still be found guilty of treason, as to the charges of murder and insurrection I believe it can be argued and there is a chance he could beat those charges. My reasoning is as follows, for the charge of treason, for an American in a post 9/11 world to attack a federal property is going to be highly looked down upon regardless of the venue. So as to the charge of treason John Brown would be found guilty in today’s views. For the charge of first degree murder and insurrection John Brown would have a valid argument to have a possibility to be found innocent of the charges. To be found guilty of first degree murder “A person is guilty of murder in the first degree when: With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person” (New York Penal Law Article 125 – § 125.27 Murder in the First Degree). Another factor is modern technology; cameras in the armory could help prove the defenses’ case as to the murder charge that Brown did not actually kill anyone. Also the cameras would hurt their case by showing Brown taking over the armory and holding hostages.
If this case were to be in New York it could be argued that since Brown had no intention of actually hurting anyone and he was not one of the shooter who killed anyone, he would not be found guilty of first degree murder. But it does not exclude him of second degree or attempted murder charges. As to the charges of insurrection those would be dropped in today’s views since slavery was outlawed and there would be no way Brown could start a slave rebellion when slavery no longer exist in the United States. A modern jury would more than likely find Brown guilty of his actions just as the jury did back in the 1800s for treason and for the other charges I’m more the sure that deliberations would last much longer than 45 minutes. As I stated earlier people in a post 9/11 world are not sympathetic to such actions. They would probably find him innocent of treason if he protested with his recruits instead of taking over the armory. Although John Brown’s actions had great intentions, as to ending slavery, his intentions did not constitute him breaking the laws.

Cited work:
The Trial of John Brown: A Commentary

Virginia v. Brown

John Brown PBS

New York Penal – Article 125 – § 125.27 Murder in the First Degree

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