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"friendship of the sheriff," was common in an attorney's bill. s
As the principal conservator of the peace in his county, and as the calm but irresistible minister of the law, the authority of a sheriff is important; his duty is proportionably great. To preserve or restore the publick tranquillity, to ensure or enforce the effectual execution of the law, he is invested with the high power of ordering to his assistance the whole strength of the county over which he presides.
The law is mild in its mandates; but it will be obeyed. It knows, it presumes, it will suffer none of its ministers to know or to presume, any power superiour to its own. If any man, says my Lord Coke, however great, might resist the sheriff in executing the king's writs; it would be regular and justifiable in the sheriff to return such resistance: but such a return would redound greatly to the dishonour of the king and his crown: what redounds to the dishonour of the king and his crown, is against the common law: and, therefore, if necessity require it for the due execution of the king's writs, the sheriff may, by the common law, take the posse comitatus to suppress such unlawful force and resistance.*
When necessity requires it, the sheriff not only may, but must at his peril, employ the strength of his county. In the reign of Edward the second, a sheriff had the king's writ to deliver possession of land: the sheriff returned that he could not execute the writ by reason of
* Bar.on St. 458.
* 2. Ins. 193.
resistance. This was considered as an insult upon the authority, with which he was invested; and because he took not the power of the county in aid of the execution, he was amerced at twenty marks.
Besides the warrant of the common law, continues my Lord Coke, the sheriff has his letters patent of assistance, by which the king commands, that all archbishops, bishops, dukes, earls, barons, knights, freemen, and all others of the county shall attend, assist, and answer to the sheriff, in every thing which belongs to his office. No man above fifteen and under seventy years of age, ecclesiastical or temporal, is exempted from this service; for so it is by construction of law.
How easily are these cases applied to the United States and to Pennsylvania, under the operation of the fine rule, that the empire of the law is stronger as well as safer than the empire of man!
I proceed to consider the office of coroner. This office, though much neglected, though, perhaps, despised, is an office, both ancient and dignified. It forms no inconsiderable part of a complete juridical system.
In the time of the Saxons, as we are informed by Mr. Selden, he was one of the two chief governours of the county. He was made by election of the freeholders in their county court, as the sheriff was, and from among the men of the chiefest rank in the county."
By the constitution" of this commonwealth, sheriffs and coroners are chosen and appointed in the same man
μ 2. Ins. 194.
▾ Bac. on Gov. 41.
w Art. 6. s. 1.
ner. We see here another revival of the Saxon and German institutions.
To the office of sheriff, that of coroner is, in many instances, a necessary substitute: for if the sheriff is interested in a suit, or if he is of affinity with one of the parties to a suit, the coroner must execute and return the process of the courts of justice.
But the most important duty and business of a coroner is of another nature. When any person is killed, or dies suddenly, or dies in prison, the coroner must hold an inquest concerning the manner of his death. This inquest must be held upon the view of the body; for if the body cannot be found, the coroner cannot sit. He must certify his inquisition to the court of king's bench or to the next assizes. y
* 4. Ins. 271.
The lord chief justice of the king's bench is the supreme coroner of all England, and may exercise that jurisdiction in any part of the kingdom.
y 1. Bl. Com. 349.
From the statute of Wales, made in the twelfth year of Edward the first, and which, by the remedies provided for Wales, informs us, at the same time, what was the law and practice of England-from this statute we learn, that the coroner was directed to attend and summon a jury, when a man was wounded so dangerously, that his life was despaired. This branch of a coroner's duty is now totally neglected. "It is a regulation, however," says the learned observer upon the ancient statutes, "which deserves much to be revived: and I should con
24. Rep. 57 b.
ceive that this attendance of the coroner with a jury, when a dangerous wound had been received, was to prevent the dying words of the person murdered from being evidence; as this kind of proof, though allowed at present, cannot be too cautiously admitted. It is presumed, indeed, that the words of a person expiring cannot but be true, considering the situation, under which he gives the information. But may not a dying man, though a good christian, deprived of expected happiness in life by a wound, received, perhaps, from an enemy, rather wish his punishment more eagerly than he should do? And may not those about the dying person, who are generally relations, repeat what he said more strongly on the trial, than possibly the words were delivered?" a
a Bar. on St. 124.
THE SUBJECT CONTINUED..
OF COUNSELLORS AND ATTORNIES.
IN our courts of justice there are counsellors and attor
nies. In England, there are two degrees of counsellors -serjeants and barristers. How ancient and honourable the state and degree of a serjeant is, has been the ample theme of many learned and elaborate treatises.
My Lord Coke, in a speech which he made upon a call of serjeants, compares the serjeants' coif-a cap of a particular form-to Minerva's helmet; for Minerva was the goddess of counsel. He also discovers, that the four corners of that cap indicate four excellent qualities -science, experience, observation, recordation. *
a Bar. on St. 453.