An old TV show called “Perry Mason” set the tone. A taut three-act play which culminated each week with justice prevailing as the real guilty party to a crime (invariably murder), confessed tearfully on the stand during an incisive cross-exam by the intrepid Raymond Burr. Grim, post-trial quips, cue that stirring theme, and the public can rest easy as the scales of Justice are once again set right on their gimbals.
Fast forward to today, with such shows dominating the TV viewing audience. “CSI” (and its many incarnations), “Law & Order” (and its many incarnations), and a myriad of homicide and courtroom dramas have conditioned us all to a few extremely misleading and dangerous mandates regarding the quest for justice. There is an ever-growing and alarming trend in this society. With such an increase in daily TV viewing, coupled with more and more reality-TV afoot…it is becoming more and more difficult for people to discern reality from fiction.
Thanks to television, we now have the following rules for court justice:
1) As in a TV drama, the first and most obvious suspect NEVER is ultimately the guilty party.
2) It’s always the one you least suspect.
3) Police, with their erroneous and suspicious motivations, are never on target with their investigation.
4) The DEFENSE team is always the good guys and their motivations and impulses are pure and pristine as the wind-driven snow.
5) The more obvious the case seems against the poor, hapless defendant, the more certain we are that he/she didn’t do it.
6) Even with a preponderance of evidence of guilt, the defendant is almost always being framed, extorted, and otherwise the real victim (of the crime he/she perpetrated).
7) Juries tend to see the defendant as the Little Guy — victimized by the huge, leviathan of the Establishment — that uncaring, unfeeling Machine that is our judicial system.
8) Juries have come to see themselves as courageous Defenders of the Little Guy – the last vestige of hope for a poor, put-upon, flawed-but-innocent victim of police corruption and legal injustice.
9) Prosecutors seek to put the puzzle pieces together, to connect the dots; defense attorneys seek to unravel the argument, mix it all up, plant seeds of doubt, throw mud on the wall hope something sticks. Prosecutors seek to clarify; defense seeks to confound and confuse.
10) With the advent of high-tech CSI-style evidence gathering systems…you had better have DNA, carpet fiber, blood sample, residue forensics (as see on TV!)…all in order, establishing motive, opportunity, ability, plus video of the crime, plus a tearful breakdown on the stand of admission of guilt…and even then!… the jury may acquit.
I think we’ve all fallen for the famous words of Voltaire: “Better to have a thousand guilty set free than have even one innocent imprisoned.” (paraphrased)
Rubbish. I’ll take my chances on the occasional miscarriage of justice over the prisons being opened in the name of We-Don’t-Wanna-Make-a-Mistake.
Gird your loins and man up, wussies! If you’re on a jury, you’ve got a job to do. Do it! Don’t pussy-out because you miss your family, you’re worn out. and deliberations are really, really hard. Whaaaa! Man-up and do your duty.
“Beyond a reasonable doubt” does not mean beyond any doubt. There will always be some doubt of guilt. Martians could have come down in the night to commit the crime. It’s a possibility, albeit an absurdly unlikely one. But what is the reasonable probability? This is what jurors are reminded to consider – and act upon. The burden of proof must be met, yes. But as we saw in the O.J. trial… “Beyond a reasonable doubt” doesn’t work if you’re dealing with unreasonable people. That crime was proven thirty ways to Christmas. But that jury couldn’t see it because Furman was a racist?! And those on the jury who could see it were too wussy to fight for the truth. It’s tough to fight prevailing unreasonableness in court deliberations. I know, I’ve served on three trial juries. It’s tough – you’re tired, you want to just arrive at a verdict, be done with it and go home.
But you have to get it right.
We, as a society, need you to get it right. Because if you don’t, if you choose instead the easy path, the expedient solution – we as a society suffer. We are a nation of laws – but if we may break them at will and suffer no consequence, then we are no longer a nation of laws. Folding in a jury deliberation room is like going to Congress and voting “present.” You either have some balls and take a stand…or put your tail between your legs, cower to the consensus, and take the easy way out.
Casey Anthony lied repeatedly to police about the disappearance of her daughter, then proceeded to party her little ass off. A young mother who played at parenthood who just wanted to be carefree again and be done with it. If she didn’t do it… why lie to the cops? Why invent the stories of obfuscation about this phantom baby-sitter…etc, etc, etc. Because she was embarrassed? She was traumatized by some vaguely-alluded-to adolescent sexual abuse?
I think most of us can figure it out. It’s obvious. So obvious, in fact, that she’s going walk. You see…if was too obvious.
Anyone who’s ever watched “Law & Order” knows that.