The Taft Court (1921–30)
Criminal Justice and Procedure
What did the Taft Court rule with respect to municipal prohibition courts?
The Taft Court unanimously ruled in Tumey v. Ohio (1927) that a process that allowed a city mayor to try and convict individuals for unlawful possession of liquor and then take a percentage of the fees imposed on the defendants violated due process. The mayor of North College Hill, Ohio, tried and convicted defendants in a “prohibition court” without a jury. The mayor also attempted to receive a small fee from the fines imposed upon the defendants. Ed Tumey, who was convicted under the law, contended that this system of law violated his due-process rights in part because the mayor had a direct financial interest in his conviction.
The Taft Court agreed in an opinion written by the chief justice. Taft noted that in England there was “the greatest sensitiveness over the existence of any pecuniary interest however small or infinitesimal in the justices of the peace.” He also reasoned that the practice simply was not fair to a defendant in that the system was not set up for “the careful and judicial consideration of his guilt or innocence.”