By Mishael Williams 

Society has always been involved in court cases, big and  small. Jury members are people called in from local cities and towns to reach a verdict in a given case. Newspapers print headlines and articles drawing attention to court cases, and propaganda is used to urge people to think a certain way about certain cases. With the constant progression of technology, cases are often showcased on TV for the whole world to see and understand. This was the case in the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin and for the trials heard by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) regarding apartheid related human rights violations. While so much coverage of court cases can be beneficial in terms of spreading awareness, it can also compromise the integrity of a case. An example of a case in which the public became a negative factor is The Lindbergh Kidnapping case which the entire nation got wrapped up in. Charles A. Lindbergh, an American aviator and national star and  his wife, Anne Lindbergh, noticed their baby son was missing from his crib on the night of March 1st, 1932. Immediately, the whole country was determined to bring the perpetrator of the crime to justice and reunite the family once again. Naturally, the nation was outraged and heavily grieved to find out that the Lindberghs’ son, Charles, was found dead. When the police found evidence that Richard Bruno Hauptmann, a German immigrant and wanted criminal, was a possible suspect in the kidnapping and murder of Charles, the nation was eager to convict him. 

I would like to start off by saying that I am not arguing whether Hauptmann was or was not guilty of kidnapping and murdering in Charles in The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case, but I am writing to argue the unfair nature of his trial.

While Hauptmann was ultimately found guilty of the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh, it is important to note the discrepancies and diverse factors at play in Hauptmann’s trial. To start off, the case was extremely high-profile from the start, as the whole nation was watching because  one of America’s favorite people, the American aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, was involved. Sidney B Whipple, author of a book titled “The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case” even points out that “it is true that this was the ‘greatest’ crime story of the century”. Therefore, the case was seen as an opportunity for plenty of wanna-be hotshot lawyers to gain publicity and become known for their influence in the case. For example, Whipple described Hauptamann’s own counsel as “busied themselves rather with the cold legal aspects of the case than with the human life involved” (46). It was also stated in the book that the jurors were “decidedly unimpressed by the clothes, the manner or the arguments of Hauptmann’s chief advocate”. Additionally, in the last phases of the case there were several “publicity-seeking lawyers and public officials seeking to capitalize on sensation” (46). Essentially, the lawyers/counsel representing Hauptmann didn’t have his best interest at heart; they merely wanted to use Hauptmann as a stepping stone to fame, or cared more about the mystery and legal aspects of the case rather than about the person they were supposed to be defending. This heavily influenced how Hauptmann was guided in the trial, as defending him was not the priority for his legal team.

Another disadvantage to Hauptmann was the biased jury involved in his case. Whipple sheds light on this when he asks, “Could a Hunterdon County jury fail to be influenced by public manifestations in the courtroom, and how well were its members insulated against outside influences and opinion?”. After examining the atmosphere of this case, the answers to those questions are “no”, and “poorly”.  For example, Whipple writes of constant, lengthy, courtroom disruptions during the trial. In addition to this, the conditions of the courtroom that the trial took place in were less than adequate. Whipple recalls that “The courtroom was overcrowded, insufferably hot, close to humid”. Additionally, the spectators of the case viewed it as entertainment rather than something serious and real, and so they made “a holiday” out of their visits to Flemington, where the trial took place. According to Whipple, the spectators constantly “murmured, muttered, gasped and laughed aloud among numerous occasions”. Whipple also states that “Exceptional emphasis” was also given to the testimony of key witnesses when it was “punctuated by the rattle of correspondents’ paper and the rush of messenger boys for the exits” (47). While court officials reminded the jury not to let the opinion and actions of the audience influence what they thought in regards to the case, that does not eliminate the chance that the courtroom atmosphere (most importantly audience behavior) added more weight to certain testimonies, consequently influencing the jury. Whipple also states that the jury went out dining at the Union Hotel 3 times a day, and they were separated from other diners “only by screens,” and therefore were given the opportunity to “overhear the conversation of persons who were discussing the case”. Similarly, when walking from the Union Hotel to the courthouse, the jury passed through large crowds and “could not avoid hearing considerable comment” (48). Essentially, public spaces like the Union Hotel dining hall were often populated with people discussing the case. The fact that public spaces were often populated with people discussing the case meant that the jury most definitely overheard conversations regarding people’s opinions of the case, which may have influenced their own. 

Clearly, the integrity of the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case was severely compromised due to the public getting involved. Whether or not Hauptmann is guilty of the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh in the eyes of the law is a question with a definitive answer, but whether or not he had a fair trial is a question with a less solid answer.