Ostensibly, when a nation formulates and adopts a system of justice, its overriding purpose should be to achieve …..justice. However, the system that has evolved in this country is a long way from accomplishing that goal. Our justice system has developed into an adversarial battle between prosecuting and defense attorneys. Usually the side that has the best lawyer will win the case. Truth and case facts usually have little to do with the jury’s decision. The lawyer that can make the best sales pitch, that has the most charisma or personal appeal will invariably come out on top. Juries are often composed of members that are totally naive and ever-so fearful of of sending an innocent person to prison, that they usually bend over backwards to avoid a guilty conviction.
It wasn’t always so. Early in the 18th century, before we became an independent nation, trials were basically about finding the true facts and circumstances about the case before the court. The judge, prosecuting attorney and defense counsel would often work in unity to find the guilt or innocence of the defendant. A prosecutor somewhere along the trial’s proceedings might come to the conclusion that the defendant was indeed innocent, and recommend his release. A defense attorney might realize that the case facts do, indeed, show his client to be guilty, and say so in open court. Those days are long gone, however, and as I’ve said, today it’s purely an adversarial relationship.
In our so-called justice system in this day and age, jury verdicts in a criminal case are either guilty or not-guilty. Not guilty, however, does not translate into innocence. It just means that the jury was not presented with sufficient evidence to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a highly subjective phrase to begin with. It can also mean that the jury was too chicken-hearted to convict even though they were presented with a mountain of evidence-as was the case in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Also, since 1969, we have what is known as the exclusionary rule; which means that if the police made any procedural error in gathering evidence, that evidence cannot be used in court. So instead of sanctioning the police for a faulty search, the public at large is victimized, as the evidence that could convict a serial killer or other type of criminal is tossed, and he is allowed to walk out of court a free man. Your justice system in its finest hour.
The only reason that the prosecution does win any convictions, is because most criminals are too poor to afford high-powered legal attorneys to defend them. Most often, these defendants are assigned legal-aid lawyers who are usually: 1) overburdened with about 2 dozen cases on their plate, and only want the defendant to plead out, so as to ease their workload, and 2) are usually not bright enough to be hired by a prominent legal firm to begin with. So the moral of this story is that if you’re planning to commit the crime, but don’t want to do the time, make sure you have enough resources to hire a hotshot legal defense team. Three recent high profile cases prove this point.
Case 1. The O.J. Simpson murder trial. In 1994, O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and Nicole’s boyfriend at the time, Ron Goldman, were stabbed to death in front of Nicole’s house. An overwhelming deluge of evidence pointed to O.J. as the killer. O.J. was finally arrested and thrown in the clink, and after much posturing and many legal maneuvers, was brought to trial. The state assigned a highly experienced prosecutor named Marsha Clark to present its case. While Marsha Clark had a fairly impressive win rate, she also possessed the charisma of wallpaper. She allowed the trial to drag on from January-September, 1995, droning away with monotonous repetition over every arcane fact. I imagine that the jury, over this 9 month period, must have been ready to pull their hair out with the monotony and boredom of it all. All she really had to do was point out that O.J.’s DNA was found at the scene of the crime.
Simpson’s defense team, on the other hand, was headed up by the very charismatic Johnnie Cochran, who knew well, how to make his sales pitch to a jury. Given Cochran’s salesmanship abilities versus Clark’s dull as dishwater monotonous presentations, the jury’s fast, not guilty verdict was easily predictable. After being tied up for 9 months, the jury was just anxious to get-the-hell-out-of-there, and a not guilty verdict was the easiest way out. Even though, as I’ve said, a mountain of evidence showed that O.J. was guilty.
In a cruel twist of fate, O.J. did go to jail, but not until 13 years later. In 2007, Simpson came to Las Vegas supposedly to retrieve some memorabilia that he felt had been wrongfully taken from him. In a confrontation in a sleazy hotel room between O.J. and his cronies, versus the alleged memorabilia takers, Simpson was accused of using a gun to retrieve his supposedly stolen items. He was convicted of robbery while using a gun and other charges an sent to prison for avery long time. The charges and the case was totally bogus; but the judge and jury in Las Vegas tried to compensate for the great miscarriage of justice in the infamous murder trial 13 years earlier. O.J. just recently was in court appealing his conviction and asking for a new trial. He’s also up for parole, so he may be getting out of jail soon.
Case 2. The Casey Anthony trial in 2011. Casey was accused of murdering her 3 year old daughter, Caylee, because she wanted to party instead of having to be tied down by an infant. The facts in the case, again, overwhelmingly pointed to her guilt. She waited an entire month before reporting her child missing, and she was able to lead the police to where the child was buried. Once again the jury exhibited collective brain freeze, and found Casey not guilty. Justice for the 3-year old child would never be achieved. It’s the jury that should have been locked up for felony stupidity.
Case 3. George Zimmerman. We’re all aware of this trial that just ended with a not guilty verdict. And admittedly the evidence was weak as to who started the chain of events that led to Trayvon Martin’s death. But there is no question that defense attorneys completed out-played and out-manuvered the prosecution, as in the O.J. murder case. While the prosecutor did have a weak case, certain facts are indisputable. George Zimmerman was a wannabe cop who volunteered to patrol his neighborhood. He had a loaded gun in his pocket during these patrols. There had been a number of break-ins in his community. When he saw a tall black teenager wearing a hoodie, he obviously believed that Trayvon was one of those committing these crimes; although, of course, he wasn’t. Zimmerman phoned the police who advised him to get back in his truck and wait for them to arrive. If he had done that, the ensuing tragedy would not have occurred. Instead he got into a confrontation with Trayvon Martin, and then shot the teenager dead. Zimmerman claims that he feared for his life and shot in self-defense. A jury of 6 women agreed, and found him not guilty. (I felt it was strange to have a jury of 6, instead of the usual 12, and have only women on the jury.)
So this is what passes for a justice system these days. But for Nicole Brown, Ron Goldman, Caylee Anthony, and now Trayvon Martin, justice will never be achieved. Call it whatever you wish, but please don’t call it a justice system.