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The Rape Case: A Young Lawyers Struggle For Justice in the 1950's (Cultural Studies of Delaware and the Eastern Shore)

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1936249367
ISBN-10: 1936249367
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Editorial Reviews


Irving Morris s vivid recollection of events that occurred many decades ago demonstrates how the intangible benefits that lawyers receive from unpaid devotion to their profession generally far exceed the value of fees received from paying clients. I have often quoted the advice that John Adams gave to a younger lawyer: Now, to what higher object, to what greater character, can any mortal aspire than to be possessed of all this knowledge well digested, and ready at command to assist the feeble and friendless...? Morris s story exemplifies this lesson. As he writes toward the end of the book, Even though my clients paid little, I know I have earned far beyond what I ever imagined I might receive from successfully representing them.

Rather than provide readers with an advocate s recitation of the facts designed to persuade them that all three defendants were innocent, the first several chapters of Morris s book which describe the incident itself, the preliminary hearing, and the six-day trial serve a more limited objective. They make clear that the jury was confronted with difficult questions of credibility: whether to believe the defendants or the alleged victim s account of what happened in the park as to whether the encounter was consensual. The conflict was not only between the testimony of participants in the event, but also that of three police officers. We know now that those officers unquestionably committed perjury. They testified falsely that each of the defendants had signed only one statement, rather than two. If the jury accepted the perjured police testimony as true, it necessarily would have concluded that the defendants were lying when they testified to the contrary. The conclusion that the defendants lied about a matter debated at length throughout the trial undoubtedly affected the jurors resolution of the conflicting testimony about the incident itself.

In Morris s account of the events that occurred after he took over the case, he tells us about his series of defeats in state court proceedings. Initially, he unsuccessfully sought access to evidence that would establish the perjury by the police officers. After that perjury came to light as a result of an internal police department investigation, Morris experienced repeated defeats in his attempts to persuade state judges to grant a new trial.

Morris convincingly explains how state judges decided the disputed factual issues about the encounter between the defendants and the alleged victim, rather than the relevant question: whether the perjury had deprived the defendants of their right to have an impartial jury make that decision. Implicit in Morris s book is the recognition of the risk that judges confronted with post-conviction claims may be biased in favor of upholding both the work of their colleagues and the continued confinement of convicted defendants in a highly publicized case.

Irving Morris should be given credit for his contribution to the Supreme Court s clear establishment of a rule of law that would provide relief today for my hypothetical petitioner if there were a new rape case with the exact same facts and procedural history. This is only one of the many reasons why Morris s memoir is well worth reading. --Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, New York Review of Books

One creative lawyer's perseverance against a system that failed miserably in its duty to do justice is particularly vital today when courts and legislatures seem more and more inclined to support finality rather than fairness, and toughness more than truth. Thus, the book teachers lessons for today's lawyers and citizens. And does so with graphic details and thoughtful analysis, coupled with charm and humor. --Frederick A. O. Schwartz, Jr., Chief Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law

In the early 1950s, there was no Gideon, no Brady, and no Miranda. There was no DNA analysis. And there was no National Associational of Criminal Defense Lawyers, But there was a Constitution. And for one young, tenacious Delaware attorney, Irving Morris, the due process guarantees provided under that constitution would come to life and vindicate his clients for one very important reason, because he did not accept defeat. Against all odds, he kept fighting year after year, in court after court, until justice was done. Nearly 60 years ago, shortly after he graduated from Yale Law School and was admitted to practice law in Delaware, Morris embarked upon a seven-year struggle to right a wrong in one of Delaware's highest profile criminal cases of the 20th century.

The Rape Case takes the reader well beyond the findings one can read in the numerous state and federal court opinions resulting from Morris's post-conviction challenges. It is a powerful, first person account of a young attorney who would translate core constitutional principles he studied at Yale Law School into the practical outcome for which so much of the Bill of Rights is designed: the fundamental constitutional right to a fair trial. In this case, the defendants had been deprived of that right. And while the young men spent nearly 11 years imprisoned, Morris's ultimate habeas victory in federal court vindicated that right and freed Curran, Maguire, and Jones.

The Rape Case is as much a testament to the reason so many choose a career in the law as it is a detailed account of an injustice at the hands of law enforcement. Masterfully weaving together the legal, political and public landscape, Morris takes the reader back to a different era and reveals how justice can be achieved even in a criminal justice system lacking many of the legal safeguards introduced in the last few generations. --Ivan J. Dominguez, The Champion

About the Author

Irving Morris, a past president of the Delaware State Bar Association, litigated numerous civil rights cases over his fifty year career, including over four decades of participation in the desegregation of Delaware's public schools.

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Product Details

  • Series: Cultural Studies of Delaware and the Eastern Shore
  • Hardcover: 445 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Delaware (February 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1936249367
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936249367
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,573,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By John F. Jebb on June 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The cover of this book is creepy -- in a good way. But when you buy the book, take off the cover and avoid reading the jacket copy. Also avoid reading the Forward and Preface -- they all give too much away. Even the chapter titles are too revelatory, so ignore them. Reading without knowing the outcome is fun.

In Delaware in 1952, a federal judge needed hospitalization after a fall. While he was in this vulnerable condition, two nurses visited him to seek advice. They needed a Delaware lawyer to associate with the out-of-state lawyer who was willing to appeal the 1947 convictions and life sentences of their brother and his two friends -- convictions for rape. Eventually, the judge's clerk took on the case; he was Irving Morris, the author.

Thus the book is a first-person memoir of how a very young lawyer tackled the appeal of an ugly and complex case. Morris soon took major responsibility for the appeal, both the legal analysis and the human aspect of dealing with the three young convicts and their families.

The book fascinates in how it describes the appeal process -- how Morris found testimony in the trial transcript that he deemed to be outrageous police misconduct, how Morris crafted the reasoning in the appeals, how he read opinions from the appeals courts to decipher how he could continue to argue at higher courts. The book offers a wonderful primer on how lawyers read court opinions and draft appeals. Law students interested in appeals work would find the book insightful. Morris demystifies and illuminates the appeals process.

The case became so famous that it was cited in U.S. Supreme Court opinions. The book further explains the sometimes tense relations between state and federal courts and explains why federal courts sometimes need to intervene.
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Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book, both for its wonderful writing and its historical content.
Historically, Morris really paints a vivid picture of Wilmington in the 1950's.
The story of what happened to these men, legally, is incredible. It was amazing
to hear the story from Morris, the Attorney, instead of someone who had no role
in the actual trial. I have recommended this book to several friends already!!!
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Format: Hardcover
I recently read this book and could not put it down. The author was able to recount the story of a criminal appeal that took years without turning it into a legal recitation of facts. He describes the time and place so well that you can picture the neighborhood and smell the smoke in the coffee shop where the lawyers gathered to talk and meet. The story of the three men was engaging. If you are a fan of legal stories BUY THIS BOOK. It is also an excellent look in to how our legal system has evolved in just 50 short years. The rules and procedures that require the exchanging of evidence which we take for granted were not always so.

Great story and well written.
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