Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ableman v. Booth V: Booth's Trial Strategy

As I have explained, Booth's initial habeas corpus petition alleged that his detention was illegal for two reasons: the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was unconstitutional, and the warrant contained technical defects.

At the hearing before Associate Justice Smith, however, Booth's attorney, Byron Paine (pictured), sought to withdraw the second objection, based on technical defects. He was presumably acting on the intructions of his client, Booth, who was trying to force Justice Smith to rule on the constitutional issue.

This drew an angry rebuke from Justice Smith:

". . . I do not admit the right of the citizen to complain to me of illegal imprisonment, and apply for a writ of habeas corpus for his discharge therefrom, and then waive or decline his discharge except upon such grounds only as he shall see fit to prescribe. While I am willing faithfully to discharge my duty in every instance when called upon, and to extend the protection of the law to every person entitled to its protection, I do not admit the right of any one to devise a fictitious imprisonment, merely to experiment upon my opinions or research in regard to particular questions of law which may chance to be deemed of more or less interest in the community. . ..

"I shall take this case, therefore, as the petition and the return too the writ present it for adjudication."

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