(From “Moman Pruiett, Criminal Lawyer,” by Moman Pruiett (1945))
Speech by Moman Pruiett to the Oklahoma Electric Club, Oklahoma City
February 21, 1927
“The Relationship of Old Black Gold to Law Enforcement”
“They are slaves who fear to speak
For the fallen and the weak;
They are slaves who will not choose
Hatred, scoffing and abuse
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truth they needs must think;
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three.”
–James Russell Lowell.
A few days ago the Honorable Governor [Henry S. Johnston] of this State [Oklahoma], for whom I voted, both at he primary and general election, for whom I made speeches, and for whose integrity I have the most profound respect, delivered a message to the joint session of the Legislature wherein he dealt at length with the momentous question of Crime, Lawlessness and the Reformation of the Code Criminal Procedure of this State.
He mentions the questionnaire sent out by the National Economic League from which he has learned that the most important problem of the American people today is the administration of justice.
Gentlemen, I have always been of the opinion that the greatest problem confronting this or any other people, of this or any age, is the administration of justice. I consider this to be the great interest and purpose of men on earth, and the only interest and purpose of men on earth. I never knew before that it was left for some “Meddlesome Mattie League” to send out a questionnaire to ascertain that great fact. I consider that as being a fundamental proposition so deeply grounded in the hearts of intelligent men as not to call for a questionnaire. Yet this questionnaire makes plain one proposition and that is that the “Meddlesome Matties” are at work; it also shows who their play tools are.
But, gentlemen, this message covers many phases, and deals at length with the questions of reforming the Criminal Code.
I read it with interest, astonishment and amazement; and when I finished perusing it, I read the Code of Hammurabi, written two thousand years before the birth of the Nazarene.
Gentlemen, I consider the message of Governor [Henry S.] Johnston as being a message of blood and terror, and if enacted into legislation would be the greatest step backward toward the Hammurabi code of righteousness that man has ever made. I consider it as being the most vicious abortion of justice that has ever been penned by the Chief Executive of any free untrammeled people.
It indirectly thrusts the very saber of tyranny into the most fundamental rights of our American people. By subterfuge it would destroy the most vital spark of our trial by jury.
The Governor believes that the same right to disqualify a trial judge should be accorded unto the state as well as to the defendant. This has ever been the right and privilege under our form of government which has been accord only to the defendant. The state is the prosecutor, and her judges are her ministers elected by her people, and if they are prejudiced toward their masters they should not only be disqualified but forever barred from judicial service and there is no other cause for disqualification of a judge, save prejudice, whether brought by political, financial or personal interest.
This law is hinged on the principle that if, for any reason a judge is prejudiced against the defendant, that defendant has the right to disqualify the judge to sit in judgment at his trial. This condition can arise often, and often does arise.
The governor further asks that defendants charged with conspiracy should be denied the right of severance at trial, notwithstanding that the nature of their defenses may materially differ.
This principle of law has ever hinged on the theory only that defenses may materially differ and it has ever been considered good law to grant a severance of trial where the defense has a material variation. These laws were made and enacted to protect the rights of the individual and that the less guilty should not suffer as severe a punishment as those who are more guilty.
The Governor further asks that the Legislature enact a law making the defendant a competent witness in his own behalf, and if he fails to testify, permit his failure to be commented on by the court, jury and attorneys in the case. Under the ancient laws of all savage nations defendants were forced to bear testimony against themselves. Brutal and pitiless instruments of torture were used by the officers of the law to force from the lips of the defendant words of self-condemnation. The rack and thumbscrew, the gibbet and the stock were instruments by which the brave and valorous were forced to recant and admit their guilt as adjudged.
But in America we have ever considered this as being the work of savage beasts and we have shrunk from these brutal instruments as we have shrunk from the monarch’s heel; and as a righteous reaction from the ancient code of infamy and savagery, we have placed in our Constitution provisions that have for their purpose the preventing of prosecutors from forcing defendants to bear testimony against themselves. The wise Fathers of this great republic–men of foresight, vision and governmental genius who peered into the future as far as human eyes could see, saw the furies of the morrows, all the hatreds yet to be–knew that such men would walk the earth in the future as they had in the past, who would be willing that the defendants should bear testimony against themselves; wherefore they enacted as the Fifth Amendment to the Federal Constitution the provision that no person shall be compelled in criminal cases to be a witness against himself.
Gentlemen, I consider that demand of our Governor as being one of the most brutal stabs at the right and prerogatives of the defendant that the world has ever heard. Our Governor further asks that the Legislature provide for the privilege of taking depositions of the prosecution as well as for the defense. This is in direct contradiction to the great landmark laid down in the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of these United States, which provides, among other things, for a public trial by an impartial jury and that the defendants may be confronted in that self-same public trial by the witnesses who are their accusers.
In the dark ages that have slumbered in the vicious vistas of the days long ago, when the individual had no right for which to fight and for which to contend–when the prerogatives belonged to the Monarch, Governor Johnston’s theories were in vogue. But man has advanced in many ways and we may well assume that if there is anything now settled or ever to be settled in our courts of justice as an act of procedure, it is, let us hope, that the defendant shall ever have that glorious right and sovereign prerogative of a public trial, and then and there in open court to be confronted by his accusers. This law has ever hinged on the principle that these trials are to be public–that these witnesses are to appear in the self-same public court and then and there be subject to cross-examination. Under the ancient savage laws, most trials were conducted when the defendant slumbered in some dark and desolate dungeon while his accuser in royal regalia wrote out the verdict of his destiny.
The Governor further ask the increase in power for the trail judge that he may become an agency of justice rather than a mere referee of a contest, and he asks that the judge be authorized to analyze and comment upon the testimony, in a method that shall be free from vindictiveness, malice and ill will. Shame be upon the age! Shame be upon the principle! When such an unrighteous thrust shall be made at the very fundamental, underlying principles of the trial by jury system. If the trial judges are to be permitted to use their exalted position to instruct a jury and comment upon the testimony, we may as well assume that his comment will be in close accord with his malice and vindictiveness. If they are to be accorded this extraordinary privilege, then what will be the ultimate annihilation of the prerogative and right of the defendant to be tried by a jury of his peers?
In this country it has ever been considered the most sacred principle of our administration of justice that the defendant should be tried by twelve good men and true, who are to be the sole judges of the testimony as it comes from the witness stand; and he who would seek by legislation to pollute that sacred stream of the jury trial and the principles of procedure involved therein is both unworthy of our considerations and the fit subject of our fears.
If Governor Johnston should secure by legislation the enactment of his demands, the Bill of Rights becomes a hollow joke, and our Constitution but ropes of sand. We have on our statue books today enough laws to safeguard our substantial rights, yet each new administration sees fit to make new requests and demands of the law-making body, calling for reform, until the reformers have become more or less deformers.
Our honorable Governor further recommends that the statute of limitations be so amended that the same shall not commence to run against any public officer for official misconduct until the expiration of the terms of office of said person. Gentlemen, I take the position and maintain that the statute of limitations should never run against any officer for any crime he may perpetrate.
The people repose extraordinary confidence and trust in their public officers and who pollutes and breaks that faith should suffer the consequences thereof whenever the commission of his offence shall have been ascertained. The statute of limitations should no more run against officers who have violated their public trust than against the man who commits malicious murder; for politics and politicians do so mingle that protection is oftimes given to those who prostitute their offices for personal or political gain; and, further, time does tame the thief in high places.
During the last few years, the forces of fanaticism made great progress in this country, and the “deformer” and his associates, the various snooping syndicates throughout the land, have been trying to deprive the working man of his only day of enjoyment by trying to close on Sundays theatres, ball parks, and other places of enjoyment and amusement.
Nothing breeds vice like an attempt to promote virtue by force, and eternal vigilance is still the price of liberty! Yet, we have such organizations to thank for this age of graft, lawlessness, crime and the reign of the bootlegger. Their triumph has made sneakery, hypocrisy and disrespect for the law popular; it opens the flood gates of vice, drunkenness and crime; it nullifies constitutional provisions for the protection of individual liberty, and is ready, in the administration of government, to replace democracy with absolute despotism.
Man is a fighting animal, that fights for life, for love, for fame and glory, for his rights and liberty, for property and power; the fight starts at his conception and ends at the tomb.
Were the Legislatures of the various states of America to enact a few messages such as Governor Johnston requests, in a few short years man would have nothing for which to fight.
Gentlemen, I say, beware of regulators and deforming reformers; beware, in this age, of snoops, sneaks and meddlesome spies; beware of those in high places who seek to subvert the ancient landmarks of the nation, and cite as their authority, the statistics of an aggregation of crazy fanatics.
Oft times in the past, many, many crimes perpetrated in the construction of a few miles of highway were concealed, while the attention of the public was called to some special prosecution in some case, not especially interesting to the public coffers or making any special strain on the people’s pocket book.
In the past, tainted bonds, Liberty, municipal, county and state, have not been brought to light and dragged from their hiding places; neither has the searchlight of truth been turned properly upon corrupt commissioners.
Gravel pits in this state have been likened to the sparkling diamond fields of Africa; cement plants have been likened unto the gold mints.
Justice has been thwarted on account of granting of pardons and directing prosecutions. Why? All for Old Black Gold.
Gentlemen, I do not understand and cannot conceive how anyone believes in the principles laid down by the meek and lowly Nazarene can ask for the enactment of laws that would rob the individual of every right in an open court of justice. I do not understand how anyone who believes in the principles set forth by Him who died on Calvary can say to the world: We will imprison them for life; we will take away their names, we will disgrace them before the world, we will number them and mark them as eternal outcasts unworthy of citizenship and association. We will place them in coal mines in less than ten days, we will try them summarily and take from them their present rights that conviction may be sure and certain. We will make of their body a bloody sacrifice that the world may know that we of Oklahoma propose to enforce the law to the letter, for we propose to demand the last drop of blood, and the last pound of flesh; then if they will not submit, we will burn their bodies in an electric chair and stand by in happiness and glee and watch their poor lives ebb out in whirling wreath of smoke.
Gentlemen, that is what they propose, that is what they demand!
I look into the past and I see Man, mad with hate, selfishness, envy and greed; I see him building dungeons wherein he incarcerates from light his fellowman; I see him building the scaffold upon which the unfortunates of the world must hang; I see the thumbscrews, rack and gibbet; I see the auction block and whipping post and a thousand other instruments of torture–dreadful souvenirs of ignorance and hate. All this has been.
But I look again and all this has gone; I see a race comely and fair; I see men practice fraternity toward his fellowmen; I see him invent instruments with which he may penetrate into the curious bastions and the winding halls of the human brain and decipher the languages of virtue and vice; I see men delve into the human heart and hear her mysteries. I hear men say and practice what the Master said, “Come, I will give you rest.” All this shall be; and in the future let us strive and work to do away with all instruments of torture; let us assist in destroying all instruments that tear and rend human flesh. Let us work for and usher in the eternal day when “Truth will not be forever on the scaffold, and wrong forever on the throne.”
In the great open spaces of the great Southwest, we find a fair city with a varied citizenship. This city has her Main Street (as curious, peculiar, spectacular, antique and modern as any that has ever traversed any city’s heart); this city, too, has her Broadway, where the garrulous and gay find full hilarity.
But, this city has other streets wherein the mean, morose, maligning moods of men, and the wiles and ways of women find full exemplification. Main Street, too, has her bagnio and Broadway her brothel.
This city has great buildings (fitting tributes to the genius of architecture), and yet dedicated to the industry and commerce of the world.
This city has great homes of magnificent structures and of beauty in design, fit abodes for the Olympian Gods, and might well be compared with the dwellings on the fabled isles of Greece.
A system of education exists here that may well vie with any that we find throughout the broad dominion of the world.
Churches of wonderful structure lift their spacious spires unto the skies, whereon may play the long days through, the angel babes.
Yet, here where wealth and culture, genius, religion and education have their happy home and habitations, we find the Open Gates–the play grounds of infamies, crime and sin. Here we find the places where infamies are matured, and crimes are sustained in freedom. Here we find the officers are but poor executors of their sworn duty–sleepy administrators of the law–and we wonder why.
Is the God of Mammon more potent than He who pled for a righteous cause? Is the lust for old black gold to outweigh the consciousness of duty? Is a bootlegger converted into a Blackstone the most lofty disciple of the law?
Yet, all this we find. We find the gates open to a thousand crimes. We find men once paupers becoming wealthy through infractions of the law. We find ex-bootleggers now bedecked with sheepskin and pleading the cause of law, to the exclusion of lawyers who were made so by industry, study and toil.
We find that dreaded specter that has ever haunted the brain of man; the dope-trust, with its falcons red, that pierce the very soul of its weak-willed victims. We find it protected at so much “PER” shake, and we find that if this is not forthcoming, then they are turned to the “Federal.”
“DOPE” that does not eat upon the soul and heart and brain and sinewy nerves of his victims till they become veritable maniacs, walking, stalking ghoul-eyed goblins and finally end their suffering days in the asylum for the weak-minded–for insanity through pity does ofttimes end their pain.
Yes, dope, that frightful power, that they draw out the poppy’s subtle blood, that paints upon the easel of the brain colors and forms that do entrance and lead the victim whithersoever it will with their glaring eyes and vicious brain.
Yet, we find this protected, and the same Mammon extended protection to its cruel, heartless, purveyor that protects the liquor crime and the gambling den and brothel house of shame.
But who opened the gates? Who turned the silent key? Have the ghastly hands of Mammon turned the gates upon their austere hinges and permitted bootlegging, gambling, dope-peddling, burglary, robbery, bribery, extortion and bawdy brothels run rampant with OPEN GATES?
We think that his but the warning hiss of defeated candidates, blighted politicians, corrupt office holders and impure administrators of the law.
We think that there is a hand to close these gates, and we summons it to do its duty. We would summon it to drive from high places the untrue office-holder, the bribe-taker, the receiver of blood money, the extortioner–all those who demand and accept BLACK GOLD that crime may run with OPEN GATES.
Whenever America can say: “My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor corruption is to be found among my public officials; my jails contain only prisoners placed there by the due process of law– a law enacted by a Christian people who have discarded all remnants of the savage ages, and who have learned of a Christ who said: ‘It hath been said of old, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” but I say Nay;’ the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive, the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness”–when these things can be said, then may this country boast of a government whose officials have never bowed before the Golden Calf of Mammon, and whose hands have not been stained by the filth of the old BLACK GOLD.
Moman Pruiett: Criminal Lawyer, by Moman Pruiett
He made it safe to murder, by Howard K Berry
Oklahoma Renegades: Their Deeds and Misdeeds, by Ken Butler
100 Oklahoma Outlaws, Gangsters & Lawmen, by Daniel Anderson, Laurence Yadon and Robert Barr Smith
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