Kangaroo Court

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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Page 103

[Slang of U.S. origin.] An unfair, biased, or hasty judicial proceeding that ends in a harsh punishment; an unauthorized trial conducted by individuals who have taken the law into their own hands, such as those put on by vigilantes or prison inmates; a proceeding and its leaders who are considered sham, corrupt, and without regard for the law.

The concept of kangaroo court dates to the early nineteenth century. Scholars trace its origin to the historical practice of itinerant judges on the U.S. frontier. These roving judges were paid on the basis of how many trials they conducted, and in some instances their salary depended on the fines from the defendants they convicted. The term kangaroo court comes from the image of these judges hopping from place to place, guided less by concern for justice than by the desire to wrap up as many trials as the day allowed.

The term is still in common usage by defendants, writers, and scholars critical of a court or a trial. The U.S. Supreme Court has also used it. In IN RE GAULT, 387 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1428, 18 L. Ed. 2d 527 (1967), a case that established that children in juvenile court have the right to DUE PROCESS, the Court reasoned, "Under our Constitution, the condition of...

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