Famous Trials

Reynolds v. United States

Reynolds v. United StatesThe Background of Reynolds v. United States:

Reynolds v. United States was a fundamental United States Supreme Court case, which stated that religious duties were not a suitable defense to a criminal indictment.

George Reynolds was a prominent member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who was charged with bigamy under the provisions latent in the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. George Reynolds was charged after he married Amelia Jane Schofield while still holding a marriage with Mary Ann Tuddenham in the state of Utah.

The case eventually made its way up to the Supreme Court, where George Reynolds argued that his previous conviction for bigamy should be overturned based on four fundamental reasons. The issues that George Reynolds offered in Reynolds v. United States included that his grand jury had not been established legally; that challenges made by certain jurors were improperly overruled; that the testimony offered by Amelia Jane Schofield was not made permissible as it was under the previous indictment; and, and most fundamentally, that it was his religious obligation to marry multiple times.

The Case Profile of Reynolds v. United States:

The following is a case profile of the legal trial eponymously titled ‘Reynolds v. United States’:

Date of the Trial: Reynolds v. United States was argued in the United States Supreme Court on November 14th 1878.

Legal Classification: The Mormons believed that the law which prevented them from marrying multiple times was unconstitutional because it deprived them of their First Amendment right to freely practice religion.

Accused Criminal Activity: The following criminal activity and charges were cited by the state of Utah under the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act against George Reynolds within the appeal brought forth subsequent to the initial ruling:

George Reynolds, in Reynolds v. United States, was being indicted for marrying multiple women without divorcing (participating in polygamy). 

Date of the Delivery of the Verdict: The case of Reynolds v. United States concluded on May 5 1879.

Legal Venue of Reynolds v. United States: The United States Supreme Court by way of the District Court for the 3rd Judicial District of the Territory of Utah—the conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court of Utah as well.

Judicial Officer Responsible for Ruling: Chief Justice Morrison Waite

Verdict Delivered: In Reynolds v. Utah, the court stated that religious duty was not a suitable defense against any felony acts or any criminal indictments attached to the defending party.

Robert Hanssen: Former FBI Agent and Spy

Robert Hanssen: Former FBI Agent and SpyWho is Robert Hanssen?

Robert Hanssen is a former FBI agent who engaged in espionage for the Soviet and Russian intelligent services from 1979 to 2001. As a result of his engagement in espionage and conspiracy charges, Robert Hanssen is currently serving a life sentence at the Federal Bureau of Prisons Administrative Maximum Facility prison in Florence, Colorado. This particular facility is regarded as a “Super Maximum” penitentiary and is home to individuals who have committed the egregious and serious felony offenses in or against the United States of America. Robert Hanssen, for his longtime involvement in spying against the United States, currently spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.

Robert Hanssen was arrested on February 18 of 2001 in Vienna, Virginia and was subsequently charged with selling American secrets and confidential information to Russia for more than $1.4 million in cash and diamonds over a 22 year period. On July 6, 2001 Robert Hanssen pleaded guilty to 13 counts of espionage in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Robert Hanssen, upon his admission, was then sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. For his role as a conspirator, Robert Hanssen’s activities are typically described as the worst intelligence disaster in the history of the United States.

Robert Hanssen’s Early FBI Career:

Robert Hanssen joined the FBI as a special agent on January 12th, 1974 where he was transferred to the field office in Gary, Indiana. In the following years, Robert Hansen was transferred to counter-intelligence and was responsible for compiling a database of Soviet Intelligence that was to be given to the FBI. During this function, Robert Hanssen began his career as a Soviet/Russian spy.

In 1979, Robert Hanssen contacted the Soviet military intelligence agency and offered his services as an undercover spy. Robert Hanssen later informed the FBI that there was no ideological or political motive to operating as a Russian spy, he offered his services purely as a means of earning a handsome payment.

During his first cycle as a Soviet spy, Hanssen told the Soviet military intelligence agency a significant amount of information, including information regarding FBI bugging activities and lists of suspected Soviet intelligence agents. In addition, Robert Hanssen revealed the identities of CIA informants who passed information to the American intelligence agencies. The most noteworthy delivery of information concerning Soviet traitors was delivered by Hanssen when he revealed the true identity of Dmitri Polyakov—a Soviet General who passed on critical information to the CIA.

Robert Hanssen’s Espionage Activities:

Robert Hanssen, still unnoticed by the FBI, was eventually transferred to the FBI’s budget office. This new role gave Hanssen access to all kinds of financial information involving an assortment of FBI activities, including all activities related to wiretapping and electronic surveillance. Hansen continued to work with the Soviet government and the KGB to extract undercover agents, notify traitors and deliver information concerning confidential FBI activities.

Robert Hanssen Exposed:

Although Robert Hanssen never revealed his identity and refused to meet with the Russian Military Agency and KGB, two moles that were employed within the FBI to sniff out the funneling of information, eventually pinpointed Robert Hanssen as the spy. Robert Hanssen was able to continue working as a spy because he was described as “diabolically brilliant” by his superiors within the FBI. Hanssen always refused to use the dead drop sites with his handler and often designated a code to be used when dates or information was exchanged. Although his efforts were delivered with extreme caution, Hanssen was eventually caught by the moles.

Hanssen, when arrested and subsequently charged, negotiated a please bargain that enabled him to escape a death sentence—the plea required that Hanssen cooperate with authorities and reveal all information that was leaked.

The Tragedy at Ruby Ridge

The Tragedy at Ruby RidgeWhat is Ruby Ridge?

Ruby Ridge is in northern Idaho and is the site of a series of violent confrontations that took place in 1992. The confrontations required a siege against Randy Weaver, his family and Kevin Harris (a friend of Randy Weaver). The siege that took place on Ruby Ridge was deployed by agents of the United States Marshals Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

What Sparked the Siege at Ruby Ridge?

Randy Weaver was a former factory worker in Iowa and United States Army Green beret. During the 1980s he moved his family to northern Idaho in order to home school his children and escape to a world that was not marred by corruption. Randy Weaver’s wife, Vicki, was the religious leader of the family and firmly believed that the apocalypse was looming.

The Weavers bought 20 acres of land on Ruby Ridge in 1983. In 1984, Randy Weaver and his neighbor, Terry Kinnison, fought over a $3,000 property transaction. Enraged over the dispute, Kinnison wrote letters to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service and the local Sheriff, claiming that Weaver had threatened to kill the President of the United States, the governor of Idaho and the Pope.

Upon investigation, the Federal Burea of Investigations discovered that Weaver had an alliance with members of the Aryan nation. Realizing this threat, the ATF conducted numerous investigations, some of which were undercover, against Weaver to reveal any criminal activities that were present in Ruby Ridge. In October of 1989, the ATF claimed that Weaver sold informants two sawed-off shotguns that did not meet the length requirements set by federal law. A federal grand jury later indicted Weaver, in December of 1990, for making and possessing, but not selling, the illegal weapons.

Weaver refused to accept the charges based on his sentiment that the ATF was “setting him up.” As a result of this belief, Weaver failed to show up for his court date. This absence made Weaver a fugitive and transferred the case to the Marshal Service. Following an elaborate 18-month surveillance of the Weaver’s cabin at Ruby Ridge, the Marshalls decided to conduct a siege on the land.

The Ruby Ridge Siege:

Weaver, who didn’t trust the federal government, refused to leave his cabin at Ruby Ridge. Assuming that Weaver was armed in the cabin, six marshals were sent to Ruby Ridge to determine suitable areas away from the cabin where they could effectively ambush and arrest Weaver.

The Marshals, who were equipped with M16 rifles and night-vision goggles, eventually engaged the Weavers in a firefight. The siege, which lasted two days, prompted the release of a 542 page investigation. While federal officials claimed that the confrontation between the Weavers and the government began when the Weavers ambushed the federal marshals, the report gives a different story.

Although the details are somewhat muddled, the fight started when the agents shot one of Weaver’s barking dogs. In response, Weaver’s son Sammy and his friend, Kevin Harris, went outside and fired at the agents. While running back to the cabin, Sammy was shot in the back and killed. Kevin Harris, who witnessed the killings, fired back at the agents and killed one of them.

Following the initial shootout, the Weavers and Harris retreated to the cabin where a small army surrounded the area. On August 22, 1992 Randy Weaver was shot and wounded and his wife, Vicki, was killed as she stood in the doorway of the cabin. Eleven days after the initial shootout, Randy Weaver finally surrendered.

Aftermath:

After he surrendered, the confrontation at Ruby Ridge was heard in a federal criminal trial. Weaver’s attorney, made accusations that every agency involved in the shootout violated the Weaver’s rights as American citizens. Randy Weaver was ultimately acquitted of all charges except missing his original court date and violating bail conditions—for these wrongdoings, Weaver was sentenced to 18 months and fined $10,000. Randy Harris was acquitted of all charges as the courts ruled that his actions were made in self-defense. Weaver and his family were awarded $3.5 million dollars in a wrongful death suit that was filed for the killing of Weaver’s 14-year old son.

Sacco and Vanzetti: Anarchists and Murderers

Sacco and Vanzetti: Anarchists and MurderersWho were Sacco and Vanzetti?

Ferdinando Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were infamous anarchists who were ultimately convicted of murdering two men during an armed robbery that took place in South Braintree, Massachusetts during 1920. Not only are Sacco and Vanzetti infamous for their murder and armed robbery attempt, but also for the controversial trial and series of appeals, the two Italian immigrants had undertaken.

Although their legal battles tested the American judicial system, Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty of their crimes and were executed on August 23rd of 1927. Following their execution new evidence and a re-review of the trial proved that Sacco and Vanzetti were falsely accused.

Background Information:

Sacco and Vanzetti moved to the United States at the age of seventeen. Both Sacco and Venzetti were devout followers of Luigi Galleani—a famous Italian anarchist who commonly advocated for the delivery of revolutionary violence, including assassinating public figures and bombing government buildings. During this era, the United States Federal Government viewed Italian anarchists as the most dangerous enemies of the state.

As a result of their dangerous status, the majority of Galleani’s followers were isolated and subsequently deported by the United States government. Followers of Galleani, such as Sacco and Vanzetti, routinely produced publications that evoked hateful messages towards government and called for a violent uprising to end oppressive or authoritative regulations.

The Charge:

On April 15th of 1920, two employees of the Slater-Morril Shoe Company were transferring $17,000 to a bank in South Braintree, Massachusetts. The two men were halted and murdered by two armed robbers who stole the cash and escaped in a getaway car which was believed to have been stolen. The two victims of the attack–who later died from gunshot wounds— as well as witnesses on the scene, indicated to officials that assailants were of Italian decent. Sacco and Venzetti, unfortunately, fell into a police trap which ultimately implicated them of committing the crimes.

The Trial:

Sacco and Venzetti were tried for the murder in 1921—Venzetti was only charged for the robbery portion of the crime. Through the trial, many government officials and prominent Americans stated that the trial was not delivered in a way that met the Constitutional privileges guaranteed by the United States government. After a series of failed appeals, Sacco and Venzetti were executed via the electric chair in 1927. As a result of the sketchiness and inequality that enshrouded the trial, great public outcry accompanied the execution of Sacco and Venzetti.

Many historians agree that the justice system ultimately failed Sacco and Venzetti as a result of their allegiance to anarchist groups. 

State of Tennessee v. Scopes

State of Tennessee v. ScopesWhat is the Scopes Trial?

Formally known as the State of Tennessee v. Scopes (and informally regarded as the Scopes Monkey Trial), the Scopes trial is a historic American legal case that was heard in 1925. The Scopes Trial revolves around a high school biology teacher, John Scopes, who was accused of violating the state’s legislation, particularly the Butler Act, which deemed it illegal to teach evolution in class.

The Scopes Monkey Trial was a highly controversial and infamous American legal case for it questioned the fundamentals of education as well as the core principles of religion. Scopes was initially found guilty, but the verdict was later overturned due to a technicality present during the Scopes Monkey Trial. Aside from the uniqueness and principles which the Scopes Monkey Trial tested, the trial drew intense publicity, due to the prestigious lawyers representing each side. William Jennings Bryan, a three time presidential candidate argued for the prosecuting side, while Clarence Darrow, a famous defense attorney, spoke on behalf of Scopes.

The Scopes Monkey Trial questioned the inner-working of religion; the Scopes trial saw modernized interpretations of evolution that were parallel to religious beliefs and more fundamentalist viewpoints that said God, as revealed in the Bible, trumped all human understanding regarding creation. The Scopes Monkey Trial was thus a theological argument that was intertwined with statutes and legislation.

Details of the Scopes Monkey Trial:

The Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 was a challenge to Tennessee’s constitutional laws which dictated that evolutionary theories could not be taught in any educational environment. The stage for the Spokes Monkey Trial was set when the state’s legislature passed the Butler Act, which directly prohibited the teaching of all kinds of evolutionary theories in schools.

Following the passing of the Butler Act, the American Civil Liberties Union grew concerned that the act was unconstitutional.

John Scopes had assigned a section of a biology textbook that dealt with evolutionary theories to his class; noticing these teachings, several prominent local lawyers agreed to prosecute against Scopes.

The Scopes Monkey Trial was relatively brief and was highlighted by Darrow’s speeches, who claimed that the trial was a test of American civilization. Darrow, who was a evolutionary theorist, claimed that the Butler Act should have never been passed. At one prominent point during the Scopes Monkey Trial, Darrow called Jennings Bryan to the stand, where he interrogated him about the Bible and suggested that man was foolish for believing in the creation story.

In his closing argument, Darrow asked that the jury find John Scopes guilty; this request was made so the Scopes’ case could be appealed at a higher level. The jury agreed to this plea and the judge fined Scopes 100 dollars. When Darrow appealed the case, it was discarded, because the jury should have set the amount of the fine and not the judge.

The Scopes Monkey Trial was viewed as an elaborate and staged event; it simply raised public awareness concerning the evolutionary theory and the right to teach such thoughts in schools as a part of scientific curriculum.

Palko v. Connecticut

Palko v. ConnecticutThe Background of Palko v. Connecticut:

Palko v. Connecticut, was a United States Supreme Court case that concerned the incorporation of the Fifth Amendment protection against instances of double jeopardy.

Frank Palko, in 1935, was a Connecticut resident who broke into a local music store and stole a phonograph. Palko, after stealing the phonograph, fled on foot, where he was eventually cornered by law enforcement agents. When confronted, Palko killed two police officers and escaped custody.

When Frank Palko was captured a month later, he was initially charged with first-degree murder; however, these chargers were later revised to the lesser offense of second-degree murder. This revised charge distributed a life sentence to Frank Palko.

Prosecutors appealed the revision per Connecticut law and won a new trial, where Palko was found guilty of committing first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Palko appealed the death sentence, claiming that the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides protection against double jeopardy applied to state governments through the Due process clause of the 14th Amendment. The courts previously held that the protections of the Bill of Rights are not applied to the states under the Privileges of Immunities clause; however, Frank Palko stated that since the infringed right fell under the process protection, the state of Connecticut acted in violation of his rights latent in the Fourteenth Amendment.

Palko v. Connecticut Trial:

Benjamin Cardozo, the justice presiding over the case, stated that the Due Process Clause only protected those rights that were “of the very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty” and that the court system should only gradually incorporate the Bill of Rights onto the States where justiciable violations arose. Using this subjective case by case approach, the court upheld Palko’s conviction on the basis that a Double Jeopardy appeal was never “essential to a fundamental scheme of ordered liberty.” Palko was later executed via the electric chair on April 12, 1938.

The Case Profile of Palko v. Connecticut:

Date of the Trial: November 12, 1937

Legal Classification: Constitutional Law

Date of the Delivery of the Verdict: December 6, 1937

Legal Venue of Palko v. Connecticut: United States Supreme Court

Judicial Officer Responsible for Ruling: Chief Justice Charles Hughes

Verdict Delivered: The Fifth Amendment right to protection against issues of double jeopardy is not a fundamental right incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment to the individual states.

The Downfall of Saddam Hussein

The Downfall of Saddam HusseinWho is Saddam Hussein?

Saddam Hussein was the President of Iraq from July 16th, 1979 until his death on April 9, 2003. Saddam Hussein was a leading member of the country’s revolutionary party, which practiced a mixture of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism. Through this ideology, Saddam Hussein when in power, created security forces to tightly control conflict in the country.

In the early 1970s, Saddam Hussein nationalized the oil industry (along with many other industries). In addition, Hussein also perpetuated an insolvent system through the creation of a government-run banking system. During the 1970s, Saddam Hussein affirmed his dictatorship and cemented his authority over democracy and various apparatuses of government. The monies accrued from a secure oil industry enabled Iraq’s economy to boom and Hussein to amass enormous amounts of wealth.

Saddam Hussein’s violent enterprise:

Saddam Hussein led a coalition to essentially enforce genocide on his people. Saddam Hussein, through the use of his military, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis while crushing opposing forces who threatened his dictatorship. The killings were delivered in a variety of ways, including air attacks and chemical weapon attacks. These malicious acts were delivered on towns and villages throughout the country.

Saddam Hussein maintained power throughout the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s and in 1990 his army invaded and looted Kuwait.

The invasion of Kuwait prompted international involvement; the invasion sparked the Gulf War, which freed Kuwait but did not dethrone Saddam Hussein.

In March of 2003, a coalition of countries that was led by the United States and United Kingdom invaded Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein. The invasion was justified based on intelligence received by the United States and United Kingdom, that Saddam Hussein hoarded weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam Hussein’s capture and Trial:

After months of fleeing from the coalition, Saddam Hussein was captured on December 13th of 2003. During this time, Saddam’s Baath party was disbanded and the nation ultimately transitioned to a democratic state.

Saddam Hussein was brought to trial under the Iraq interim government, who on November 5, 2006, charged Saddam Hussein with numerous charges related to the 1982 slayings of 148 Iraqi Shi’ites. The interim government found Hussein guilty of all charges and sentenced the savage dictator to death by hanging. Saddam Hussein was executed on the 30th of December in 2006.

The specific charges stemmed from the murders that took place in 1982 and basic crimes against humanity; along with the killings, Hussein was also found guilty of torturing women and children and illegally arresting 399 Iraqi citizens. Although the Iraqi Special Tribunal ultimately found Hussein guilty of the atrocities, numerous difficulties arose during the trial.

The majority of the challenges that Saddam Hussein and his lawyers brought up revolved around contesting the court’s authority and maintaining that he was still the active President of Iraq.