Some months ago "Vanity Fair" satirized the decay of free institutions in America. Passed over lightly at the time, the satire is brought vividly to mind by the widely heralded trial of Gerald Chapman. The press reports are almost universally in a vein to create the hostile public opinion by which juries are so easily swayed. The "New York Times" even states that Chapman's diabolically superhuman mind has, since his capture, mastered criminal law so thoroughly that he is now directing his own defense, and will concoct the subtle lies that will be stated in his favor--and so on. Aside from the ethics of such propaganda, the fact of its existence, is a telling commentary on the American jury system.
The public has come to form an extra-judicial jury which demands that its decisions be enforced. In order to pronounce an unpopular sentence on Leopold and Loeb the judge was forced to take preventive measures against personal assault. And the nation is so sure of its decision (based on newspaper evidence) against Rescoe Arbuckle, that his jury acquittal has done nothing to remove the official ban on his films throughout the country. "Vanity Fair's", satire is amply justified. The public never admit's being wrong, and it is little, concerned to give an unpopular man a chance.
Courts and juries are often enough criticized and surely with sufficient cause. But the problem is immensely complicated by public judgment. The accused can only have fair trial, when court decisions are made without reference to mass opinion which is formed solely on the evidence contained in meagre and occasionally garbled press reports.