Column for 17 July, 2011

JUSTICE FOR ALL?

 

“The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.  Then Abraham approached Him and said: ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?  Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?  Far be it from You to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike.  Far be it from you!  Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’”

–Genesis 24:22-25

 

A little girl died in Florida.  Her mother was arrested and charged with her murder.  After a trial before an impartial jury of her peers, the mother was acquitted of that murder.  These are the facts we know.  Virtually everything else was buried in a froth of innuendo, grandstanding and digital lynch-mobbing by the insatiable beast that is the 24-hour news-cycle media.  Why was the Casey Anthony case important?  Primarily because the media told us it was.  Sadly, many children disappear or die in America every single year, but this case stood out because it had all the elements needed for exploitation: the victim was an adorable little white girl, the defendant a pretty white woman.  Casey Anthony’s behavior after her daughter’s “disappearance” was sufficiently disturbing and salacious to provide grist for hour after hour after endless hour of rank speculation and outright fabrication.  Moreover, the presiding judge in the case was naïve enough to yield to the beast and allow cameras in his courtroom, thus providing the loathsome Nancy Grace and others a never-ending supply of “post game footage” to comb through, jaw over and lie about.  In a world of repellent loudmouths like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, Nancy Grace stands out for her obnoxiousness and willingness to deliberately distort reason, logic and the law in support of her colossal ego.  Having exploited a personal tragedy to begin her career, Grace now mines human misery like a fracking operation.  Among the lowlights of her career: luring Melinda Duckett, the young mother of a missing child, onto her show and berating her to the point that she committed suicide; latching onto the infamous Duke Lacrosse case and relentlessly smearing the defendants, all of whom were of course later cleared.  In the Casey Anthony case, at least, her attorneys were smart enough not to allow their client within a country mile of this hectoring leech.  Nancy Grace and other media grotesques are exhibit A in my argument against ever, under any circumstances, allowing cameras into courtrooms.  I am proud to say that I did not watch a single minute of Casey Anthony “coverage”; the OJ Simpson trial was more than enough to put me off forever.  For the same reasons, I hardly ever watch deliberately fictional lawyer movies or TV shows: either they are inaccurate, which drives me up the wall, or if they are accurate, I find myself asking why, after I’ve done this all day, I want to watch someone richer and better-looking than me pretend to do it.  I hadn’t even started law school during the Simpson trial and I was driven to distraction by media airheads blathering on about how the prosecution’s case was “mere circumstantial evidence.”  This is a perfect example of lazy media coverage not only failing to educate the public, but actively making them dumber.  “Circumstantial evidence,” that is evidence other than notoriously unreliable eyewitness testimony, typically forms the bulk of evidence presented in nearly all criminal trials.  In the Casey Anthony trial, the media talking heads distorted the very concept behind jury trials, so much so that at least one juror has gone into hiding, fearful for her life.  It is not, and never has been, the job of the jury to figure out who committed the crime or how the crime actually occurred.  The jury’s one and only function is to determine whether or not the prosecution met its’ burden beyond a reasonable doubt.  To put it another way, “not guilty” is not and never has been the same as “did not do it.”  In a criminal prosecution, whether it’s for a traffic ticket or capital murder, the prosecution and only the prosecution has the burden of proof.  The defendant is always assumed to be innocent and has no responsibility whatsoever to prove anything.  Trials in the real world are not like television, where Matlock or Perry Mason always manage to persuade the real villain to break down on the witness stand and tearfully confess.  There’s no “Scooby Doo moment” where the mask is pulled off to reveal Old Man Crenshaw who runs the amusement park.  This is fundamentally different from civil cases, people or corporations suing one another, where both sides have the burden to prove their case to the much lower standard of proof by a “preponderance of the evidence.”  There’s a reason we do things this way.  It’s because the Founding Fathers were concerned with protecting people from the overwhelming power of the State.  They built a system in which it is deliberately hard for the state to convict anybody of anything, at least if the jury is doing their job.  In this, they were informed by the Judeo-Biblical standard that it is better for a hundred guilty men to go free than to convict one innocent man.  In Texas, we have done a very, very poor job of holding to that standard.  More than forty people have been exonerated by DNA evidence years or decades after they were wrongfully convicted.  In many of these cases, they were convicted because their (often court-appointed) attorneys were lazy or incompetent or because prosecutors deliberately broke the law and withheld evidence.  However, prosecutors are almost never punished for their misconduct, the Duke Lacrosse case being the exception that proves the rule.  You never hear about that on FOX “News” or MSNBC, do you?  Cameron Todd Willingham was executed for the murder of his own children in a house fire; it is extremely likely that the fire was an accident, not arson, and that Willingham died due to junk science presented by the prosecution and a laughably pathetic defense attorney at trial.  Have you heard Nancy Grace talking about him?  Alleged Governor Rick Perry has gone out of his way to obstruct any meaningful investigation of this case as well.  Where’s the breathless continuous coverage of this case?  Make no mistake, the death of Caylee Anthony was a tragedy, but it was a tragedy made worse by media distortion and glory-seeking that undermines the criminal justice system.

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Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 12:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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