Friday, July 03, 2009

Law and Justice, Part II

So, to continue the moral/legal discussion, and skying now off into the realm of reasonable doubt ...

In criminal cases, the burden of proof is greater than it is in civil cases, and that's a good thing. Better, the saying says, that ten guilty men go free than to imprison one innocent one, and that's a good thing, too, at least philosophically in my mind. If you are going to execute somebody or put them away for life, you are supposed to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Which brings us to O.J., Robert Blake, and Michael Jackson ... (I used to use Phil Spector, but they finally nailed him.)

Okay, a show of hands: How many here believe that O.J. did not kill his ex-wife? That Robert Blake (Mickey of The Our Gang comedies, and Baretta of the can't-do-the-time-don't-do-the-crime same-name TV series) didn't have his wife killed? That Michael Jackson didn't molest those little boys during their "sleep-overs?"

You there? Your hand is up? Oh, yeah, okay, you can go to the bathroom. Anybody else?

Uh huh. That's what I thought.

Lizzie Borden was found not-guilty too, recall. ("Lizzie Borden took an axe/ and gave her mother forty whacks/ when she saw what she had done/ she gave her father forty-one." According to the pathologist, this was incorrect -- he figured nineteen and eleven, respectively. And here's the part I like -- the house where the slayings took place is now a bed-and-breakfast inn ...)

But, the law said that Lizzie, O.J., Blake, and Jackson were not guilty, at least criminally. Either prosecutors didn't make their cases, or the juries were drinking something stronger than coffee, or some god just likes fucking with us.

On the civil side, O.J. and Blake got sued into the ground and were found liable for millions they didn't have, and MJ coughed up a sum reportedly between ten and twenty million to make the first kiddie fiddle case go away, which is a fair amount for an innocent fellow to pay, leastways so it seems to me.

Was justice done in these instances?

By all accounts, Lizzie did it, there were never any other suspects, nobody with motive, means, and opportunity. She tried to buy some poison earlier, but the pharmacist wouldn't sell it to her.

O.J. was a helluva football player, an okay actor, but beating the rap didn't make him smarter, apparently, and he eventually wound up convicted on other felony charges, which result was ten to fifteen in the slammer. Did he think he was bulletproof because he skated on the murder?

Blake married Bonnie Lee Blakely -- who had been married nine times before -- because DNA finally showed that he had gotten her pregnant, though they all thought the father could have been somebody else with whom she was also sleeping. She lived in the guest house behind Blake's, that's how much in love they were. He suspected she had roped him into marrying her and said so, loud and repeatedly, and he apparently didn't much care for that, or her. They went out to dinner one night, the Blakes, and his story was, he had to go back into the restaurant after they got to the car -- because he had left his gun there.

Anybody out there packing? Ever leave your gun in a restaurant?

While Blake was inside fetching his hardware, some bad guy passing by shot Mrs. Blake in the head and killed her. Well, she had a lot of enemies. Or maybe it was just, you know, random?

MJ -- well, we all saw the news coverage of that one. As Chris Rock pointed out, we loved him so much we were willing to let the first one slide ...

The law can nail the second litterer I used in my first posting, and in theory, takes care of people who murder or molest when these things come to light. But here's the difference: The law is supposed to apply to everybody equally, across the board.

As somebody pointed out, if Playboy's Miss August drops her ice cream wrapper onto the ground and the LEO who steps up is male, young, and hetero, chances are she won't be getting that ticket -- all she has to do is take a deep breath.

It is true, ladies. We are pigs. Well, goats, more like ...

Yes, the police should have some discretion; however, that the law is there is always a hammer that can be used. I recall being pulled over late one night by a local PD K9 unit. My brother and I were doing private eye work, and we had just come off a surveillance. Soon as we showed our ID's and badges, we were golden. Why did he stop us? It was late, he was bored, but he didn't say that. His excuse? Well, somebody robbed a 7-Eleven across town and your car fits the description of their getaway vehicle. He smiled when he said it. We smiled, too.

And there is no question that rich people have an edge. All the animals in the barnyard are equal -- except that some or more equal than others ...

I recall a discussion when the O.J. murder trial verdict came in. Black guy I was talking to said, this wasn't about black or white, it was about green -- as in the color of money.

Yeah, Bernie Madeoff got a hundred and fifty years, but that's only because he stole so much money from other rich people. If he had just killed somebody, he'd probably never have seen the inside of a cell ...


Dave Huss said...

I use the '95 O.J. trial in class as a good illustration of your very point.
The biggest problem that I had with the entire trial is that they charged him with the wrong crime. With what they had, there was problems PROVING that he was the actual guy that did it. What they could have done easily was proved that the son of a bitch was THERE. That gets you conspiracy, before or after, and two counts in a capital Murder case would have still landed his ass in prison for life+.
Marsha Clark and that gang of idiots got greedy and saw their names up in lights and turned the whole thing into a circus. Happened in all of the cases you mentioned and many more.
This is where the Green part comes in. If you have it, you have a shot at ducking a conviction. If you are some poor slob like Clarence Gideon, Dr. Sam Sheppard, or those kids in the Michelle Bosco murder, you are screwed.

jks9199 said...

There's lots that went wrong with OJ. Beginning early in the investigation. In fact, you could make a good argument that OJ owes Rodney King about 12 years worth of regular steak dinners because the OJ case was as much about black men and the justice system as about OJ. Of course, the $$ to buy his legal team helped plenty, too. A hypothetical Oscar Simpson probably would have pled out, no trial.

But you're also talking about juries -- and there is just no telling with juries. Either way. If you've never sat through voir dire & jury selection, I recommend you do it at a couple of trials. I had one case where we went through two pools of potential jurors... We lost more than half the first one when one gal came up and clearly didn't speak English enough to serve. (I don't think she spoke enough to order in anything other than an ethnic restaurant...) Would you believe that NOBODY after her who had any trace of an accent felt that they spoke English well enough to serve? Then we lost the next pool with one question that the defense felt a question was too prejudicial -- and the judge bought it.

But the phrase "beyond a reasonable doubt" is another part of the problem. Lots of folks just don't understand that "reasonable doubt" is not "any possible doubt." As much as I hate to say it -- there was room for reasonable doubt in the OJ trial, if you aren't convinced that he could travel between the scene of the crime and his residence in the time allotted. (Personally -- I am.) Unreasonable doubt starts when you start looking for nutty reasons... like "everyone's got a twin somewhere" or a person kindly wrapping themselves up in a carpet, shooting themself, and somehow moving their own dead body -- with no blood trail -- to a park. One way I often explain it is that when you have to start reaching for little green men and UFOs transporting the bad guy... you're into the land of unreasonable doubts.

Our legal system is far from perfect. Too much depends on the luck of the draw along the way, from the responding officer all the way through to the prosecutor, defense attorney, judge and jury. Draw the wrong combination, and you won't convict a ham sandwich of coming from a pig -- or you'll convict that ham sandwich for everything from the Lindbergh kidnapping to the murder of Humpty Dumpty. But, again, most of the time, it all tends to work out. Most defense attorneys, in my experience, aren't out there trying to get guilty people off; they're trying to level the playing field and ensure that things stay fair. And most prosecutors aren't out to take cases to trial where things aren't pretty solid. Most cops do their best to be fair. Personally, I hate taking a case to the prosecutor if it's not likely to stand up...

Unfortunately, the money is an issue. I'll tell you now what I've told others; if your life or your liberty is on the line, get the best lawyer you can go into debt to afford. Especially if things have gone wrong, and you've been charged with something you didn't do.

Heinlein had something I thought was a neat idea. Paid juries. Both parties put together a pool for the judge and jury if they wanted a trial... so we're not talking the token "jury pay" some courts give.

Dan Gambiera said...

A postulant before Oliver Wendell Holmes once said "All I want is simple justice, Your Honor."

The great jurist replied "This, sir, is not a Court of Justice but of the Law."

Dan Moran said...

"If he had just killed somebody, he'd probably never have seen the inside of a cell ..."

There's a man with a clear view of the legal system.

"The biggest problem that I had with the entire trial is that they charged him with the wrong crime."

The biggest problem I have is that Ira Reiner and Gil Garcetti committed the same exact error TWICE.

Reiner moved the Rodney King beating trial to Simi Valley, a bedroom community full of white people and cops; and then Garcetti turned around and did the EXACT SAME THING with OJ ... moving a crime that took place in Brentwood to a downtown L.A. court where it was guaranteed OJ's jury would be full of black people.

If they'd tried the cops downtown and OJ on the Westside, where their damn crimes occurred, they'd have won both cases, and the course of race relations in America would have been different.

Garcetti's the last Democrat I voted against in an election. It takes a lot to make me vote for a Republican since Clinton's impeachment, but Garcetti managed it.

Steve Perry said...

I've been on a couple of juries -- even though I can get out of the duty, being that my work is usually working on a deadline and nobody can take my place, I usually go when I'm called. (We've lived in this house for a couple of decades and my name has popped up six or seven times. My wife has never gotten a summons -- we registered to vote on the same day at the same place. Go figure.

As a private eye, I spent a fair amount of time in various courtrooms, testifying or waiting to do so. I'm a fairly good witness. Mostly they were civil or workers' comp places, couple times criminal, and the majority of my clients were attorneys.

What is sometimes amazing is that all the good people aren't in jail with the felons running everything.

Oh, wait. That did happen for what? Eight years ... ?

Good lawyers are invaluable. Bad ones are like bad doctors -- they can get you in a world of hurt.

James said...

About the stopping the Playboy bunny thing...I stopped a girl on her way to work at Hooter's(She was overqualified for the position) for 20 over the limit. She told me that she had too many points on her license and, that if she got one more ticket, she'd lose her DL. She asked what time I got off work ( 2300 ) and told me that I could come to Hooter's after work and I could have anything I wanted "on the house" and that after she got off work we could go out. I wrote her that citation so fast I'm surprised the paper didn't burst into flame. There's lots of bimbos in the world....but I've got just one career.

Steve Perry said...

Difference between an attempted bribe and just being young and attractive, James. Like the DL with the hundred dollar bill clipped to the back, you know it's a bad idea from the git-go.

Then again, all the LEOs I have ever known, including several in my own family, have as much subjectivity as the rest of us. Profiling exists -- a little white-haired granny is much less likely to have her Caddy searched if she runs the stop sign than a young white guy with an eighty-eight tattoo on his neck, and for good reason.

Attractive and polite people sometimes skate for those reasons alone. When I was doing private eye work in L.A., I used to get stopped for traffic violations all the time. Nature of the activity -- to do a tail properly, you had to cut corners, make u-turns, speed, run lights, all kinds of stuff, or you would lose your subject.

When I got pulled over, I'd be upfront with the officer:
Look, I know I ran the sign, I'm sorry, but I looked and it was clear, and I was tailing a guy (this while flashing my ID and badge) and I get paid by the hour. I lose him, I have to go home for the day.

They all understood where I was coming from, and all closed their ticket books and shooed me off.

I was young, earnest, and honest, and had a reason they could see. I didn't want to run the sign, I had to.