The Salem Journal: Legal News

Witches' Remise

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Order In the Court

By Whitney T

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The legal processes in Salem Village, Massachusetts went through many changes and stuggles, but all for the better, between the years of 1692 and 1693.

The community of Salem Village is very religious, therefore religion and the government systems were forced to become one unit. Accusations of being a witch went straight to the courtroom, which always held God accountable and found a way for him to fit into the situation. For witch trials, each court in the legal systems had a different technique for dealing with the accusations and consequences for the offenses.

During 1692 informal trials were run by the Reverend Samuel Parris. He would sit in front of the courtroom listening to the arguments of both sides. Spectral evidence was a big part of the cases. If the accusers made the argument that they saw a person or thing with features or the face of the "witch," that evidence was used to prove that person guilty. While this was happening the victim was present in the room to provide proof or evidence, and the accused stood in front of the courtroom trying to prove themselves either innocent or guilty. The whole process was witnessed and overseen by families, friends or local townspeople who knew the person who was tried. Although many people were there to witness the trials, Reverend Parris had the final say and the authority over the cases. The community believed that people were guilty even with the smallest sample of "evidence" against them. This is because during this time all of the accused were people of lower status and not the most religious, churchgoing people. The informal trials worked and were approved by the town, but as time went on and more and more people were accused and the issue was magnified, Governer Phips introduced the idea of taking the trials to the next level of justice. Later in the year of 1692, the Court of Oyer and Terminer was established in the community of Salem Village. The court of Oyer and Terminer is a form of court that distributes the authority, and allows more people to act as jurors and contribute their opinions to the cases. The Governer and Reverend Parris made a crucial decision to bring in outside forces of authority to the courtroom of the small town that was in need of order. The Court of Oyer and Terminer consisted of Reverend Parris and other officials from outside of Salem Village who shared the ability to interpret and determine the outcome of the offenses.

With the Court of Oyer and Terminer came harsher consequences. People who either pleaded guilty or were found guilty were imprisoned or even worse, hanged from Gallows Hill. Not only were the immediate wrong doers faced with consequences, but also their family names were disgraced and the land was taken from the families and returned to the government.

In the year of 1693, the accusations became less and less believable. People that were very religious and of higher class or status started to be accused of being a witch. Once Governor Phips' wife was accused, he and the locals of Salem Village began to question the fairness of their trial system. Disbelief spread throughout the community about the justice of the legal system. After one year of being in existence, the Court of Oyer and Terminer was dissolved by Governor Phips. This form of court was later replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature. This form of court trials did not allow spectral evidence to determine the final verdict. The Superior Court of Judicature focused more on the legal aspect of evidence than on the For this transition the outside jurors were returned to their own towns, and apologies were were offered by officials to those who were imprisoned and to the families of those who were executed . By May of 1693 the last person in jail was released.

This process of development made people in the Salem area think twice about the justice of their legal systems. The final court system of the Superior Court of Judicature requires legal evidence, and not just the word of mouth. Although the process of the witch trials took three forms of government and two years, in their aftermath we now differentiate religion and the government as two separate systems.

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