21.4.21

A fair trial?

So, the verdict is in.  To the surprise of some, it was guilty... guilty... guilty... 

This may be an unpopular opinion, I don't know that this was a fair trial.  Yes, Chauvin will be spending the rest of his life in prison.  But what if that hadn't been the verdict?  Ali Velshi on MSNBC interviewed a man on the streets who said that he would not be surprised if the verdict was "not guilty" because that's the way these things run.

When George Floyd was first murdered, the police said that it was a "medical incident" but there was a video.  A damning video shown around the world.  And at that moment, things changed.  The Black Lives Matter movement... the Black@[name of school] posts...  defunding the police...repeated entreaties to "say his/her name" because Floyd wasn't the only Black murdered last summer.  Cries for justice grew louder and louder.

That's not a bad thing.  Maybe now police can hold their colleagues accountable when they see wrongdoing.  Maybe that "thin blue line" will fray a little.  

The problem, from my point of view, is that fair and trial in this case felt wrong.  The howling mob of protesters, opinionators and just plain folks—both pro-police and anti-police—had one verdict, and one verdict only in mind.  If it was not guilty, then justice would not be done.  If it was guilty, then the jury were cowed by what they were hearing and seeing outside the trial.  

I was talking about this with some friends a couple of weeks ago and we discussed cases like these, where there is So. Much. Evidence. that any unbiased, clear-eyed person would be sure to say "yes, the perpetrator was guilty."  Not just this case, but hypothetically if you caught a burglar with the loot in their hands leaving the building, or some other person caught in the act of something illegal. Like Jack Ruby, on television, shooting Gary Oswald. Per our system, they are allowed to plead not guilty and entitled to a fair trial, and their defense is allowed to present possible alternative theories and introduce doubt into the theory of the case.  It only takes one person on the jury, right?  

But when there is so much evidence, or a video that doesn't allow for alternative interpretations... what about then?  We agreed that maybe there needed to be another way.  Why go through the expense of the trial? We know they're guilty.  We know they need to be punished, to somehow pay for their misdeeds.  Is it truly a fair trial when there is only one possible outcome, barring jury interference or fear?

Obviously this would have to be limited to very few cases, and perhaps a panel of judges could rule that this, in fact, was such a case.  But at least then we'd know that other trials, those with some question of guilt or extenuating circumstance, could be fair.  

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