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Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti 1920 Summary

The Sacco-Vanzetti case has stigmatized the American justice system and represented the discrimination toward non-American people that prevails in the country. Despite almost 90 years after the occurrence Sacco and Vanzetti are often regarded as the most occurring case in the history after American justice.

The incidence happened at the beginning of 20th century, for 10-15 years there was a noticeable activity of the immigrant anarchists and radicals who were in-charge of many labor strikes, political agitations and antiwar propaganda. Their political activities created a significant confrontation with the law and conservative government that was opposed to their political views and actions. The Sacco-Vanzetti trial took place at that rocky political time and brought up a lot of questions about the fairness and justice of American law system, and raised issues concerning American society and our political and social system.

Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti 1920 Summary

Nicola Sacco (1891-1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1888-1927) were Italian anarchists, they were electrocuted in August 1927 as they were found culpable and were charged of murdering two men during a robbery in 1920, in conjunction with much pandemonium about a prejudiced trial and lack of substantial evidence.

The case is attracting attention because it was known for its timely dispatches of ordinary murder court rulings in the state of Massachusetts. The case has gathered interest far beyond the boundaries of Massachusetts and United States and is of international concern because of its long successions of disclosures and has emerged as one of the rarest causes célèbrei.

The fact over the years has emerged as convicted anarchists were held to the paradoxical ideas throughout the trial and had guided them as activists. Sacco and Vanzetti case rose grave uncertainties about the practice and convention of Anglo-Saxon justice acclaimed in United States.

The basic assertion this case brings attention to the minds of all legal scholars since then that- “Is the trial and appeal process of American justice system failed to meet minimum standards of impartiality and independence, especially for the criminal case in which the defendants’ lives draped in the balance of justice”.

It can be inferred from several records that the trial was prejudiced and one-sided, because the American system of law tried to prove that the immigrant anarchists represented anything negative in society and they could not have anything better to prove this view if not for their conviction of robbery and murder.

During the trial, a lot of details of crime were highly unconvincing. Even though many witnesses placed the defenders at the crime scene of the crime. People from other town stated that Sacco and Vanzetti were not in the get away car.

In addition, it is found that Judge Thayer, who benched the trial, allowed all prosecution evidence and not all defense evidence in. At the end of the trial, there was no exact proof that they were guilty of the crime; nevertheless both men were convicted and in 1927, they were executed.

No matter whether Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty of the crime or not, it is strongly believed that these two men did not have a fair trial because of the fact that they were anarchists with criminal connections. Also, convicting them would mean keeping law and order. Persecuting the radicals would justify the most intense political repression in American history that was taking place at the time of the trial.

It is evident that the District Attorney Frederick Katzmann and Chief Stewart showed astonishing great keenness in creating a case against Sacco and Vanzetti. They were not even answerable about their arrests.

More of the incidence can be procured from the second trial with the judge who was highly convinced with the firmly believed unequivocally in the defendants’ guilt. The District Attorney summarized the case in three main categories of evidence:

  1. Eyewitness identification of Sacco and Vanzetti
  2. Expert ballistics testimony establishing Sacco’s gun as the weapon that was assumed to fire the lethal shots at Berardelli and Vanzetti’s gun that was presumed to be taken from the Berardelli during their robbery act.
  3. The defendants’ evasive behavior both before and after arrest as evidence of legal terminology “consciousness of guilt”.

The suit was through the tough times and only one eyewitness was firm in thoughts about seeing Sacco and Vanzetti shooting. This witness was at some 60 feet. Another witness pointed at Sacco as “dead image” of the man who shot Berardelli. Seventeen witnesses were produced in front of the court but none were carrying enough weight and influence to prove Sacco and Vanzetti guilty.

The Ballistic evidence could have gathered sufficient proofs to decide the case and to prove the murder, Katzmann wished to show that the mortal shot that made Berardelli dead came from Sacco’s gun. Van Amburgh indicated some kind of ambiguity in the case and said that he was inclined to believe that it was fired… from this piston. The defense attorneys called their own ballistics to prove that the fatal shot was not fired from the Sacco’s gun. The ballistic evidence were weakened by the defense; to further strengthen the case, Katzmann framed his case on “consciousness of guilt”. Based on this conviction he tried to prove in front of the jury regarding the apprehensive behavior of Sacco and Vanzetti, both before and after their detention. There were not enough grounds to proclaim about the guilt of Sacco and Vanzetti but for Katzmann persuasion and his onslaught. In addition, death of fellow anarchist, Andrea Salsedo and their established connection with the Sacco and Vanzetti brought them at high risk.

This was sufficient for Judge Thayer to confirm and specify the consciousness of guilt. Katzmann could now hold the pulse of the case and lingered around the facts provided by the police and also by the garage landlord and totally disregarded Sacco and Vanzetti clarifications. Since defendants were anarchists with criminal connections, the fact alone of proving them guilty of murder and robbery would have justified the “rightness” of this political repression. Proven guilty, they would have symbolized everything negative that an anarchist would bring to the political table and stand for.

Lawyers and legal historians could conclude that trial procedure being prejudice on the component of judge and prosecutor, amateurish by the defense lawyer.

The case has influenced historians, to frame the opinion that the courts are not taking enough thoroughness and pains to determine the innocence or guilt of a suspect. They have taken decision based on the evidence gathered by the prosecutor.

The case history provides enough evidence to conclude that Judge Thayer has given a totally biased judgment about the most happening case of Sacco and Vanzetti.


One of the courts concluded that “the commonwealth demands no victims… and it is as much the duty of the district attorney to see that no innocent man suffers, as seeing no guilty man’s fleeing.

We strongly believe in the facts our justice system holds and when it affects human lives as in this case, it becomes more important. It is evident that our legal system maintains fundamental protection of human rights and also that lawyers ensure that they are following the most appropriate legal procedures and also assure that evidence put forward by them are stringently according to the established rules and also in harmony with the measures, that culpability has been effectively and sufficiently determined.

Sacco and Vanzetti were accused also because of the nativism that influenced the judgment made by Judge Thayer and District Attorney Katzmann. For many Americans, Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty as they conflicted “American way of Life” that was otherwise appreciated by the nativist. It was their mistrustful nature that enabled Katzmann to portray consciousness of guilt. This was to put other radicals and activists in trepidation and may extend to deportation.

It is evident that for the Dedham trial, friends, local labor leaders and insurgents produced a security fund in order to distinguish similar betrayal by counsel. The Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924 had rigorously cramped the chances of newcomers from Italy and Eastern Europe. The historical explanation doesn’t conclude here as the commotions like strikes, oppositions and government hostility had thrown the labor to take a rain check.

The historians believe that Sacco and Vanzetti case as one of the biggest event in the American judicial history. This can be well understood through the article published by Felix Frankfurter, an eminent Harvard Law School professor and later Supreme Court justice, in the Atlantic Monthly where he has questioned the conduct of Thayer and Katzmann and the state appeals court’s refusal to grant either leniency or a new trial. “I affirm with deep remorse, but without the slightest fear of disproof,” he wrote, “that the opinion of Judge Thayer [on the Medeiros motion] definitely stands unparalleled in modern times, happily, for discrepancies between what the record discloses and what the opinion conveys.”Frankfurter described the document as” a farrago of misquotations, misrepresentations suppression and mutilations.” The Boston Herald rebuked Thayer for adopting “the tone of the advocate rather than the arbiter.” Once a staunch supporter of the prosecution, the Herald now called on the Supreme Judicial Court to overrun this ruling. Once again, the court refused to weigh the evidence. It ruled in rejecting the appeal that the defense motion involved questions of fact lying totally within the purview of the trial judge. (Ehrmann, Herbert B. 1969)

  • After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection
  • Ehrmann, Herbert B. “The Case That Will Not Die: Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Vanzetti”. Boston: Little, 1969 Brown and Company. Written by the last surviving major lawyer involved in the case.
  • Fast, Howard. The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti: A New England Legend. New York: The Blue Heron Press, Inc. 1954. A novel that “…tells the story of the last hours of Sacco and Vanzetti – of how a terrible sentence was passed upon them and carried out, and of what this sentence meant to millions of people the world over.” -from book jacket.
  • Feuerlicht, Roberta Strauss. 1977. Justice Crucified: The Story of Sacco and Vanzetti. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. The author’s research included interviewing Vanzetti’s sister in Italy and obtaining 100 letters from Vanzetti to his family that had never been published in English.
  • Floyd, William. There Is Justice : A Summary of the Sacco-Vanzetti Case. New York: Sacco-Vanzetti National League, n.d. Brief summary of the facts from an organization formed “to establish the innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti.”
  • Russell, Francis. 1986 Sacco & Vanzetti: The Case Resolved. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers. Based on new interviews and availability of the FBI files, the author followed-up his 1962 book, Tragedy in Dedham.
  • Shachtman, Max. Sacco and Vanzetti: Labor’s Martyrs. New York: International Labor Defense, 1927. The International Labor Defense was actively involved in the international campaign to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti.

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