Top American Trials
A while back I listed what one editor considered the 100 most important world trials. Apparently he came up with over 200 for just the U.S. If you're interested:
Anne Hutchinson Trials (1637, 1638): Winthrop's "City Upon a Hill" v. Religious Tolerance
Dorothy Talbye Trial (1638) Early American insanity case
Judith Catchpole Trail (1656) Woman accused of witchcraft freed by all woman jury
Mary Dyer Trials (1659, 1660) More religious intolerance in Boston
Nicholas More Impeachment (1685) Incompetent judge impeached in Pennsylvania
Jacob Leisler Trial (1691) After charging a group of immigrants with treason, authorities hung, disemboweled, beheaded, and quartered them.
Salem Witchcraft Trials (1692)
John Peter Zenger Trial (1735) British charge an editor with libel (although everything he wrote was true); landmark case for the formation of the First Amendment
The "Great Negro Plot" Trial (1761) Bet you never heard of this. Almost identical to Salem but instead of going after witches, they arrested blacks and Catholics. Among many other executions, 13 blacks were burnt at the stake (none were at Salem). Supposedly slaves in New York, led by Catholics, planned to take over the city. Unlike Salem, the public never turned against the accusers.
Writs of Assistance Trial (1761) Americans clash with English law, laying foundation of Fourth Amendment
The Parsons' Cause Trial (1763) Patrick Henry fights against English taxes
Boston Massacre Trials (1770)
Sergeant Thomas Hickey Court-Martial (1776) Anti-Washington conspiracy causes legal chaos
Penhallow v. The Lusanna (1777) First major American "states' rights vs. federal authority" case
Major John Andre Trial (1780) Benedict Arnold's spy captured and hung
The Quock Walker Trial (1780) Landmark case in ending Northern slavery
Alien and Sedition Acts (1798) 18th Century Patriot Act
John Fries Trials (1799) Question of when a riot can be considered treason.
Marbury v. Madison (1803) Establishment of judicial review
Samuel Chase Impeachment (1805) Unsuccessful impeachment of Supreme Court justice
George Sweeney Trial (1806) Blatant murderer goes free because the law forbid blacks to testify against whites
Aaron Burr Trial (1807)
John Francis Knapp and Joseph Jenkins Knapp Trials (1830) Daniel Webster argues for conviction of accessories to murder
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) Supreme Court decision leads to Trail of Tears
U.S. v. Cinque (1839) Amistad case
Alexander Holmes Trial (1842) In over-crowded lifeboat, Captain throws 16 people overboard to save the rest. Found guilty.
Mackenzie Court Martial (1843) Mutiny that inspired "Billy Budd"
Albert Tirrell Trial (1846) Man freed from murder charges on sleepwalking defense
Dr. John Webster Trial (1850) A Harvard professor destroys murder victim's body but court convicts him based on medical evidence
State of Missouri v. Celia, a Slave (1855) A slave kills her master to stop him from raping her; jury decided that since she was his property, she deserved to hang
Dred Scott Decision (1856)
Emma Cunningham Trial (1857) Woman forges marriage certificate and fakes a pregnancy to get away with murder
"Duff" Armstrong Trial (1858): Abe Lincoln proves client's innocence with almanac, after lying witness claims to have seen the crime by the light of a full moon
Dan Sickles Trial (1859) First successful plea of temporary insanity
John Brown Trial (1859)
Packard v. Packard (1864) During the Civil War, good Reverend Theophilus Packard Jr. decided to take advantage of an Illinois law, similar to those in 30 other states, that allowed husbands to commit wives to insane asylums "without the evidence required in other cases." The perfectly sane (except for marrying the idiot) Elizabeth Packard successfully fought for her freedom.
Dr. Samuel Mudd Trial (1865) Never, never mend an assassin's leg.
Henry Wirz Trial (1865) Commandant of Andersonville, the Confederate's concentration camp for POWs, brought to justice
President Andrew Johnson Impeachment (1868)
Hester Vaughan Trial (1868) A rape victim kills her resulting baby; sentenced to death by all male jury but women's groups rally for an appeal
Ex Parte McCardle (1868) Only time in U.S. history when Congress refused the Supreme Court from hearing a case
Boss Tweed Trials (1873)
U.S. v. Susan B. Anthony (1873) Supreme Court rules that the 14th Amendment does not cover women's rights
Tilton v. Beecher (1875) Henry Ward Beecher charged with adultery
U.S. v. Cruikshank (1875) Supreme Court limits federal authority to prevent lynching and other protection for blacks
Martinez v. Del Valle (1877) Woman sues rich man she claims promised to marry her. Attorney tears her to pieces in court.
Reynolds v. U.S. (1879) Supreme Court upholds polygamy laws (first signed into U.S. law by Lincoln in 1862). First Amendment not deemed as broad as Mormons had hoped.
Charles Guiteau Trial (1881) Assassin of President James Garfield.
Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886) San Francisco refused to grant building permits to Chinese laundries (sounds like the set-up of a joke). The Supreme Court ruled that while the building code was not discriminatory, it was being enforced in a discriminatory manner, and therefore unconstitutional.
Haymarket Trial (1886) U.S. v. trade unions
The New Orleans Mafia Trial (1891) Who knew that it was a case from New Orleans case that made the Mafia famous?
Lizzie Borden Trial (1893)
In Re Debs (1895) Business leaders force an end to a legal strike and jail the union leader Eugene Debs. (Later, despite First Amendment, jailed for criticizing President Wilson for getting the nation involving in war.)
Theo Durrant Trial (1895) Sunday school teacher murders, dismembers, then rapes two girls in church. Hung despite being found sane and without motive.
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) First step towards Brown v. Board of Education.
Roland Molineux Trials (1899) Convicted killer wins freedom on appeal on question of admissibility of evidence
Leon Czolgosz Trial (1901) President McKinley's assassin
Albert Patrick (1902) Death row convicted murderer ultimately pardoned due to legal questions of medical evidence.
Captain William Van Schaick Trial (1906) Captain of a steamboat convicted after wreck kills 900 passengers (yes, 900). Corporate owners of boat who ordered dangerous conditions not troubled.
Chester Gillette Trial (1906) Inspiration of An American Tragedy.
Harry Thaw Trials (1907, 08) First trial of the 20th century. Thaw kills wife's former lover due to "dementia Americana," an alleged illness that causes American men to murder anyone who touched their wives before marriage. Lucky Madonna married a furrener.
Big Bill Haywood Trial (1907) Labor wins one!
Dr. Hyde Trial (1910) The early O.J. Sensational trial in which an obviously guilty rich guy buys his way to freedom.
McNamara Brothers Trial (1911) Labor activists charged with dynamiting factory; almost ruins Clarence Darrow's career
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Trial (1911) 146 women killed in sweat shop; ultimately brings about regulations for workers
Floyd Allen Trial (1912) Virginia nut gets out of one-year prison sentence by having sons gun down judge in courtroom. Follow-up trial sends him to the death house.
Charles Becker Trials (1912-14) Corrupt cop gets the chair
Leo Frank Trial (1913) Jewish man in Georgia beats murder charge only to be lynched by Klan
Joe Hill Trial (1914) Union leader convicted of murder
Tom Mooney Trial (1917) During pre-WWI anarchy hysteria, man convicted of murder; later pardoned
Alice Paul and Other National Women's Party Members Trails (1917) Suffragists arrested after White House protest
Schenck v. U.S. Appeal (1919) Supreme Court limits free speech, "Shouting fire in a crowded theater."
Sacco-Vanzetti Trial (1921)
"Fatty" Arbuckle Trials (1921, 22) Opposite of O.J.--an innocent celebrity is accused of murder. Life and career ruined by first trial but next jury finds "Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame."
Moore et al v. Dempsey Appeal (1923) Court finds that lynch mob outside of courthouse can unduly influence a jury.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey Trial (1923) Leader of Back to Africa movement found guilty of fraud.
Leopold and Loeb Trial (1924) Another trial of the 20th century. Basis for Hitchcock's Rope.
John Thomas Scopes "Monkey Trial" (1925)
Billy Mitchell Court-Martial (1925) "You think an enemy power could wipe out our Navy with a surprise air attack? Guilty!" Seriously.
D.C. Stephenson Trial (1925) Grand Dragon convicted of murder after the woman he drugged, raped, and beat later committed suicide.
Frances Hall, Henry Stevens, and William Stevens Trial (1926) Two adulterers were found murdered. Although the defendants were charged, they were acquitted and the case was never solved.
The Teapot Dome Trials (1926-30) Oil scandal in a presidential administration?
Ruth Snyder-Judd Gray Trial (1927) Murder trial establishing equal rights for women killers--Both Ruth and Judd got the chair.
Buck v. Bell (1927) Supreme court upholds what Oliver Wendell Holmes called "the law permitting the sterilization of imbeciles." In Virginia and 29 other states, 50,000 Americans forcibly sterilized. Nazis cite it as defense at Nuremburg.
Alexander Pantages Trails (1929) A precedent setting trial concerning whether a rape victim's sexual history was admissible. Of course all this has been rendered null and void by Kobe Bryant.
Scottsboro Trial (1931-37)
Al Capone Trial (1931)
Thomas Massie Trial (1932) Hawaiians clash with U.S. military in Clarence Darrow's last major case
Joseph Zangara Trial (1933) Attempted assassin of FDR
Ulysses Trial (1933) Three cheers for Judge Woolsey!
Berrett-Molway Trial (1934) Publicized case in which eye witness evidence proven unreliable
Gloria Vanderbilt Custody Trial (1934) They weren't justified in taking away Gloria's children because she was a lesbian. They were justified because she was a terrible mother.
Samuel Insull Trial (1934) Case that sparked the Federal Securities and Exchange Act.
Bruno Richard Hauptmann Trial (1935)
Vera Stretz Trial (1936) Attorney Samuel S. Leibowitz saves 139 consecutive defendants from execution
Charles "Lucky" Luciano Trial (1936)
Mary Astor Divorce Trial (1936) Very messy Hollywood divorce
Martin T. Manton Trial (1939) Judicial dirty work helps define "conspiracy to obstruct justice."
Murder Inc. Trials (1941)
Errol Flynn Trials (1943) Statutory rape charge brings about saying "In like Flynn."
Eddie Slovik Court-Martial (1944) "You guys aren't really gonna shoot me, right? Right?"
Ex Parte Endo Trial (1944) Supreme Court upholds Japanese internment camps
Ezra Pound Trial (1946)
Sally Rand Trial (1946) Fan dancer found not guilty in San Francisco
Bercovici v. Chaplin (1947) Chaplin's plagiarism case, not the sex stuff
Caryl Chessman Trial (1948) Moral: don't represent yourself in a capital case
Hollywood Ten Trials (1948-50) Red blacklist.
Alger Hiss Trials (1949-50) Nixon becomes household name
Martha Beck Trial (1949) Loneyheart killer unsuccessfully pleads insanity
Tokyo Rose Trial (1949)
Trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Morton Sobell (1951)
Dennis v. U.S. Appeal (1951) Supreme Court limits First Amendment to speech advocating overthrow of government
Reynolds v. Pegler (1954) Record-setting libel case
Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Samuel Sheppard Trials (1954, 1966) "It was the one-armed man!"
Burton Abbott Trial (1955) Man put to death on circumstantial evidence
Cheryl Christina Crane Inquest (1958) Bizarre Hollywood murder case
Raymond Bernard Finch and Carole Tregoff Trials (1960, 1961) Murder case held in limbo due to jury's racial make-up and prejudice.
Richard Hickock and Perry Smith Trial (1960) Inspiration of In Cold Blood
Boynton v. Virginia (1960) Jim Crow vs. federal authority
Clarence Earl Gideon (1961, 1963) "You have the right to an attorney."
John Henry Faulk v. Aware, Inc. et al. (1962) Beginning of end for blacklists
Ernesto Miranda Trials (1963, 1967) "You have the right to know you have the right to an attorney."
Georgetown College v. Jones (1963) Jehovah Witnesses denied the God-given right to let their children linger and die after refusing blood transfusions
U.S. v. Hoffa (1964)
New York Times Company v. Sullivan (1964) Question of "malice" in libel suits
Griswold v. Connecticut (1964)
Lenny Bruce Trial (1964) "That mother-fucker said ‘mother-fucker!' Arrest him!"
The Whitmore Confessions and Richard Robles Trial (1965) How far can police go to wreck an innocent man's life? Courts say pretty damn far.
Collie Leroy Wilkins Trial (1965) After Klansman walks free after murdering girl, he is convicted of violating her civil rights
Candace Mossier and Melvin Lane Powers Trial (1966) Another rich bizarre sex and murder case.
Carl Anthony Coppolino Trials (1966, 1967) Murder case hinges on discredited witness
Albert Henry DeSalvo Trial (1967) He wasn't charged with the Boston Strangler murders but everybody thought he'd done them. DNA evidence shows it wasn't entirely guilty.
Richard Franklin Speck Trial (1967) I have been forever warped by his prison video.
Price and Bowers Trial (1967) Inspiration of Mississippi Burning
Alice Crimmins Trial (1968) Precedent-setting case involving effects of judicial error on appeals
John Marshall Branion Trial (1968) friend of Martin Luther King convicted of murder
Huey P. Newton Trial (1968) Black Panther case greatly influences jury selection
U.S. v. Berrigan (1968) Priest pours blood over draft records to protest the war
Sirhan Bishara Sirhan Trial (1969) Assassin of RFK not allowed to plea bargain so that details would not remain concealed (as with James Earl Ray).
Clay Shaw Trial (1969) Convoluted conspiracy case involving the JFK assassination.
Chicago Seven Trail (1969)
Charles Manson Trial (1970-71)
William Calley Court-Martial (1970) Yeah, you know about this one too but did you know he walked free in 1974?
John Hill Trial (1971) Texas murder case ending in mistrial
New York Times Company v. U.S. (1971) Pentagon Papers case
Angela Davis Trial (1972)
Furman v. Georgia (1972)
Roe et al. v. Wade (1973)
Tony Boyle Trial (1974) Union leader's own union pays for his murder
U.S. v. Nixon (1974)
Joan Little Trial (1975) Black woman in prison kills jailer attempting to rape her; landmark for jury selection
In the Matter of Karen Ann Quinlan (1975)
Patty Hearst Trial (1976)
Theodore Robert "Ted" Bundy Trials (1976, 1979)
Gary Mark Gilmore Trial (1976)
Randall Adams Trial (1977) Inspiration of The Thin Blue Line
Marvin Mandel Trial (1977) Massive political corruption in Maryland
Collin v. Smith (1977) Nazis allowed First Amendment rights to march through Jewish suburb.
The "Son of Sam" Trial (1978)
Bakke v. University of California Appeal (1978) Supreme Court recognizes reverse discrimination
The Marvin v. Marvin "Palimony" Suit (1979) Basis of Dan Ackroyd's greatest rant "Jane, you ignorant slut."
Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee (1979)
U.S. v. The Progressive (1979) Should a magazine provide instructions to build a hydrogen bomb? The courts said no (of course, now there's www.h-bomb.com).
Daniel James White Trial (1979) Everything you know is wrong.
Jeffery Robert MacDonald Trial (1979) Fatal Vision case.
U.S. v. Snepp Appeal (1980) Supreme Court rules that the government can prevent employees from revealing "sensitive material."
ABSCAM Trials (1980, 1981) FBI sting operation reveals even more political corruption than expected.
Jean Harris Trial (1980-81) Convicted of murder; loses "Son of Sam" prison writing suit shortly before Supreme Court finds it unconstitutional
John Demjanjuk Denaturization Trial (1981) The case that won't die; was he Ivan of Treblinka?
Wayne Williams (1981) Atlanta child killer case
Jack Henry Abbott Trial (1982) "Thanks a fucking lot, Mailer."
Claus Von Bulow Trials (1982, 1985) Another O.J. variation
John Hinckley Trial (1982) "Jodie, I love you this much."
Pulitzer Divorce Case (1982) Rich people in messy divorce
Weatherman Brinks Trials (1983) Weather Underground case
New Bedford Rape Trial (1984) Case that inspired Accused
Westmoreland v. CBS (1984)
Falwell v. Flynt (1984) Bad Larry hurt Jerry's feelings; Moral Majority use First Amendment to wipe asses
In the Matter of Baby M (1987) Surrogate parenting case
Bernard Goetz Trial (1987) "I got five dollars for all of you."
Cipollone v. Liggett Group (1988) Cigarette law suit
Joel Steinber Trials (1988, 1989) Murderously abusive couple allowed to adopt children
Oliver North Trail (1989)
Texas v. Johnson (1989) Flag-burning case.
U.S. v. Helmsley (1989) "Only little people pay taxes."
Jim Bakker Trial (1989)
Pete Rose Trial (1990)
Marion Barry Trial (1990)
Central Park Jogger Rape Trials (1990)
Mapplethorpe Obscenity Trial (1990)
Carolyn Warmus Trials (1991, 1992) Psycho woman almost gets away with murder
Pamela Smart Trial (1991) Inspiration for Boston Public
Manuel Noriega Trial (1991)
El Sayyid Nosair Trail (1991) Arab shoots rabbi but idiotic jury acquits him
Charles Keating Trials (1991-93)
William Kennedy Smith Trial (1991)
John Gotti Trial (1992)
Mike Tyson Trial (1992)
Los Angeles Police Officers' Trial (1992, 1993) Rodney King