Reform of Magistrates' Courts

April 14, 1931

Report Outline
Origin and Evolution of magistrates' courts
Magistrates' Courts: Organization and Personnel
Function and Importance of the Preliminary Hearing
Shortcomings of the Inferior Courts
Proposed Reforms in Inferior Courts

Origin and Evolution of magistrates' courts

For Many years the administration of criminal justice in the United States has been a subject of recurrent inquiry and criticism. State and municipal surveys of crime and criminal justice, of which there have been a score in the last decade, as well as the reports of local, state, and national crime commissions have disclosed not only organic and procedural defects in prosecution and the courts, but also connections between police and criminals, on the one hand, and courts and politics, on the other. No stage in the process from arrest through trial has escaped scrutiny and criticism.

Public attention has been focused of late upon the rôle of the magistrates' courts in the administration of justice, owing to the revelations of the current investigation into these courts in three counties (New York, Kings, and Bronx) of New York City, being conducted by the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court, This inquiry, launched last August at the request of Governor Roosevelt, has resulted to date in the resignations of three magistrates, the suspension and exoneration of a fourth, wholesale transfers of court clerks and attaches, shifts of several magistrates and assistant district attorneys, and the disclosure that vice-squad policemen were playing a part in “framing” women on sex charges. Numerous policemen have been disciplined, demoted, transferred, suspended, and brought to trial, while one woman vice case witness, Vivian Gordon, has been murdered.

Charged with failure to prosecute persons brought under suspicion in this inquiry, District Attorney Crain has himself become the object of a public investigation, while the cumulative effect of the scandals revealed in the magistrates' courts and police department has led the New York state legislature to authorize a city-wide investigation of the government of New York City.

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Apr. 14, 1931  Reform of Magistrates' Courts
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