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8 The Western Jurist 484
November, 1879

    Strange Uses For Photographs.

  1. Courts and lawyers are now putting photographs to novel uses. The sun-pictures of various kinds have been in popular use for a generation; but many years passed before they were adopted into the apparatus of courts of justice. The law of the land is a wary old fox, and scrutinizes a new invention a long time before extending the paw to appropriate it. But of late years, when a person is to be identified, the judge and jury are very glad to look at his or her photograph as an aid. In such law-suits as the great Tichborne trial, where a man claims to be a person who left the country years ago, and has not since been seen at home, if there are photographs of that person taken before he went, they may be of the greatest use in determining the identity of the claimant. Every one has heard of the Rogues' Galleries, in which the police keep photographs of noted criminals. If a thief or vagrant, newly arrested, is suspected to be an old offender, he is taken to the gallery and confronted with the portrait. A photograph is an important auxilliary in the still-hunt for a defaulter. If a bank cashier or insurance secretary has absconded with money enough in his possession to warrant incurring the cost, the detectives will quietly circulate copies of his photograph. Experts can usually form some judgment of the course his journey will probably take, and a thousand dollars will put a cheap portrait and notice of reward offered in the hands of thousands of railway conductors and brakemen, hotel clerks, hall-boys and porters, postmasters, baggage expressmen, news-vendors, keepers of saloons and restaurants, and all that multitude of alert, sharp-sighted, quick-witted men who have to do with travelers. No sooner does he settle down for a rest or a new home than the photographs, unsuspected by him, follow; he can hardly buy a newspaper, a meal, or a drink, go in and out at his hotel, or call at the express or post-office, but some one is stealthily comparing the face of this stranger, now first seen in the town, with the visage upon the card. This gives the detective police of our day an aid of which Bow Street officers and the old-time policemen of New York never dreamed.

  2. The circumstance that the man to be identified is dead and buried does not hinder. Probably the well-known case of the murder of Goss, in Pennsylvania, would never have been unraveled if there had not been a photograph. There was a somewhat similar case, less familiar, of an Englishman, who left wife and home, in Canada, to visit Alabama. He had not been there many weeks when he became involved in some controversy, was arrested by the sheriff, and was then taken from the jail by an angry mob and killed. His widow brought—as by the law of Alabama she might—a suit against the county for her loss of support. But her husband had been in Alabama for only a short time, and had gone by two names; hence, when the county authorities challenged her lawyer to make proof that the husband from Canada and the man killed by the mob were the same person he was perplexed. The man, meantime, had been buried, and there was no person who had known him in Canada and Alabama both. Luckily for the widow, her husband had sent to her from Alabama his photograph, with his name upon it in his own handwriting. Upon the trial she produced the card, and testified to the likeness and the autograph. The picture was then shown to the sheriff, and he said it was the portrait of the man whom he arrested, and whom the mob took from him. And persons concerned in the burial declared it was the man who was killed. Thus the case was won.

  3. A photograph of a building or of a locality may be very useful. Suppose a traveler along a country road by night drives against a heap of stones or pile of rubbish, wrongfully left in the way, and is hurt. He desires to sue the town for damages, but, of course, the highway officers will send and remove the nuisance at once, and, after that, it will be difficult to make the jury to understand whereabouts and how large the obstruction was. Let him have it photographed. A New Yorker, when his next-door neighbor, in altering his own building, tore down the wall between them, did not wish to let the mischief lie unrepaired until his law-suit could be tried, so he had careful photographs taken. Then he repaired his place. When the suit for damages came for trial, his lawyer asked to show these pictures to the jury, and the court said he might do so. In Iowa, a railway bridge broke down under a train, and the conductor was killed. His widow knew that the company would have the bridge mended long before she could have a trial, and that after it was mended there would be great difficulty in showing how defective it was. She had photographs taken of the wrecked bridge; and by aid of these she gained her suit.

  4. In questions of handwriting and the genuineness of signatures, photography has been several times invoked. As to this there is one peculiarity: a photographic copy can be taken large, which increases, so the friends of such evidence claim, the means of detecting differences or asserting identity between two specimens. The effect is much the same, so one judge observed, as looking at a manuscript through a microscope, which has long been considered proper. But courts have differed as to the propriety of using photography to determine the genuineness of papers where forgery is in question. The Taylor will case, in New York, the Howland will case, in Massachusetts, and the Rosa land-grant case, in the Supreme Court, are notable instances in the discussion of this question. In a less known trial, where a bank teller denied that he had certified a check, and experts differed as to whether the certificate was forged, the judge allowed a photographer to come into the court-room with a lantern, and throw a magnified picture from a photographic negative of the check upon the wall, for the jury to see. Where the question is of preserving or using copies of undisputed papers, photographs are serviceable. In one instance a party asked the court to send a document abroad for witnesses to see and swear to; and the judge said that this might be done if applicant would first have it photographed, so that if it were lost the court could use the copy. In another instance a party needed to produce some State papers from the War Department, at Washington; but the officers would not allow him to bring them away; so he brought photographic copies, and the judge said they would answer every purpose. Perhaps, the oddest case was one where the question was which of two yeast powders or self-raising flours would make the best bread. Instead of bringing to the judge specimen biscuits to try, the lawyers had photographs, magnified, taken of sections of loaves; and they showed the judge these pictures.