Much of the modem American legal process is dependent, not on particular substantive or procedural rules, but on legal and societal infrastructure that we tend to take for granted. To give the simplest example, appellate practice in Missouri (and elsewhere) was stunted until the late 1880s by the absence of court reporters who could create the verbatim trial records upon which a detailed review for error depends. The study of actual cases decided by juries and judges - law in action, rather than law in theory - owes its fascination to the insights it gives into what people really believe about the proper limits of human behavior. In cases of murder, the question is always when shall we condemn and when shall we excuse violation of the most basic human social commandment. If one can map the boundary between condemnation and excuse for killing in any society - not merely the formal legal rules, but the fundamental convictions expressed in actual judgments - one has learned a great deal.
Frank O. Bowman III, Getting Away with Murder (Most of the Time): Civil War Era Homicide Cases in Boone County, Missouri, 77 Mo. L. Rev. 323 (2012)