Sunday, August 17, 2014

Good Morning Jessicca

Letter to my Daughter
Sunday, 17 August

Blind Justice

Good Morning Jessicca…

The courtroom serves as the final arbiter of our most impassioned legal disputes.  Every attempt is made to dissipate emotion among the parties involved yet the heavily choreographed search for truth and guilt results in a theater of high drama.  One such proceeding involving judge, jury and advocates for the plaintiff and the defense will be tasked with determining whether there is a justified legal basis in the killing of one Michael Brown, resident of Ferguson, Missouri.

The legal system attempts to provide a setting for the impartial hearing of facts in order to arrive at a judgment as to a defendant’s culpability in crime.  Every effort is made to ensure a fair weighing of the facts but this, unfortunately, makes for no guarantee that justice will ultimately be achieved.  The law, as practiced in the United States, theoretically presumes the innocence of any defendant brought before the court and sets a high standard for establishing guilt in order to minimize the chance of convicting an innocent individual.  It is the task of the government prosecutor to establish the defendant’s guilt in the minds of all twelve members of the jury – guilt beyond reasonable doubt.  If there is but one member of the jury entertaining doubt about the defendant’s guilt then there can be no conviction.  This holds true even if this panel member feels in his heart that the defendant is guilty, yet his mind remains uncertain. 

A false conclusion of guilt results in punishing the innocent.  It is an abhorrent fact that this is sometimes the case despite our legal protections to prevent this injustice.  It is also true that these protections occasionally enable heinous criminals to escape punishment and walk freely back into society.  The courts may blindly weigh the scales of justice but this doesn’t always result in the appropriate outcome.  We place the rule of law above all other considerations but these laws are interpreted and administered by mere mortal humans, dedicated to a righteous calling but also universally fallible.  Such is the nature of the progeny of all who eat from the Fruit of Knowledge.  We discover the science that serves up miracles and, by so doing, we reap a stinging humility that comes with the generous bounty.  Our justice system serves this society remarkably well but we mostly take note when it serves to stoke our outrage. 

How is it OJ could return to the golf course scot free?  Where was justice for Trayvon Martin?  Did the Supreme Court really elect George W. Bush? 

There is relevance in the videotape of Michael Brown’s actions in a convenience store ten minutes prior to his death.  It goes to the credibility of the patrol officer’s account of a struggle with the deceased.  Is it plausible the young man would struggle with the policeman for his gun?  Forensics should add to the body of evidence that will either serve to collaborate the officer’s account or refute it or leave the issue contested.  This incident is particularly important in establishing the states of mind of the two individuals but it is not the ultimate determinant of guilt.  The legal key to this case rests on whether Michael Brown had his hands raised in surrender when he was fatally shot.  Witness testimony to this effect will be damning for the defendant if it holds up under cross-examination before the jurors.  If the policeman, sworn to serve and protect the community, shot an unarmed, defenseless man then the question becomes one of determining punishment appropriate for the crime.  What was the officer’s frame of mind at that fatal moment?  Was he coldly executing a young man as some would claim?  Did he fire in a moment of uncontrolled anger?  Was his adrenalin pumping following a life-or-death struggle and he inadvertently discharged his weapon?  What is the likelihood involving each of these possibilities?  These are all questions left for the court to decide.  In the meantime we will all hotly debate this issue – in the context of race, in the context of law and in the context of what we feel in our heart.


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