In the case of Riggs v. Palmer, the issue at hand is whether or not Elmer Palmer, a man who purposely poisoned his grandfather, should be allowed to collect his inheritance. It is the responsibility of Mr. Palmer’s lawyer to give sound legal advice so that he may make a decision, on his own, as to whether or not he wishes to fight for his inheritance. In order for our legal system to be upheld, and as immoral as it may seem, Mr. Palmer must receive the money.
By virtue, laws are intended to be a written moral code meant to govern the people it protects. Laws are written as a means of benefiting the greater good of man, and anything which is intended to, whether it succeeds or not, benefit the greater good is innately moral. In the case of Elmer Palmer it is not the law which has created an irreversibly immoral situation, it is the lack there of.
The law, much like morality, is not without flaw. There are laws who’s moral intention’s are lost in translation, and there are laws which apply to almost every persons sensibility but have not yet been written. There are few people who would read the case of Riggs v. Palmer who would be on the side of Mr. Palmer, crossing their fingers in hopes that he receives the money, but the fact remains that a law is not a law until it has been written. In the late 1800’s when this case took place, there simply was no law stating that if a beneficiary murders the holder of a will, then that individual should not receive the contents of that will. In order to preserve the legal system of law, which was created with the highest of moral intentions, Mr. Palmer must receive the money.
There are those who may argue that if a law is, “not in accord with morality,” then it is not a law at all. If this were true, then what is to be said of that which is moral but is not a law, particularly in this case. It is clear that Mr. Palmer receiving the money is not moral. The mere presence of morality, no matter how evident it may seem, does not create a law, therefore, a lacking of morality does not abolish a law. If one were to take the stance that, all things moral are laws, then it would be up to judges to determine morality not legality, and the written law would have no purpose.
It is also often argued that the law is nothing more then a tool, much like a knife, that can be used for either good or evil. Taking that stance, the legal system in the case of Elmer Palmer is being used for good, in the prosecution of Mr. Palmer for murder, and for evil, if he is allowed to receive his inheritance. The metaphor of the knife is meant to illustrate that the law is nothing more then an instrument used to serve it’s purpose.
If one were to accept the fact the laws are intrinsically moral, then it would appear as tough the lawyer is intended to be a wise counselor, who’s intention should be to advise his client as to what he should do, based on moral grounds. One could argue this claim by using the example of Riggs v. Palmer as a clear representation of what a lawyers role should be. It would seem obvious that the lawyer should not advise his client to fight for the money. The truth is, and as extreme as it may seem, that in order for the law remain moral the lawyer must be nothing more than an instrument.
In order for someone to become a lawyer they must first study law for many years, a very intense and informative process, resulting in an understanding of our legal system far beyond the bounds of the lay person. It is the lawyers understanding of law, and the loopholes which may be found in it, that create a situation in which the lawyer must be nothing more than instrument, used for serving it’s purpose. It is not up to the lawyer to decide what is moral for Elmer Palmer, his instrumental purpose is to make the lay person aware of all possible options, provided within the intrinsically moral written law. Once Mr. Palmer has been well informed by his lawyer as to what his legal options are, it will then be up to him to survey his options and make his own moral judgments.
The case of Riggs v. Palmer is a clear reminder that our system is not perfect. Our system was created with the highest of moral intentions, but legality and morality are both filled with imperfect loopholes which allow for a man like Elmer Palmer to slip through the cracks in our system. It is however, cases such as this one which allow us to find these loopholes and fill them in with new laws grounded in their own moral character.