Monday, September 26, 2011

Innocent Until Proven Guilty (and Other Antiquated Notions)


Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat – The Latin phrase that law students everywhere are not only required to memorize in pronunciation and spelling but also in concept. It’s the presumption of innocence afforded to the accused in a criminal trial. It’s a concept that’s been adopted in many nations. In it’s most basic essence, it means that someone is presumed innocent until guilt can be proven. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution. That’s the fancy way of saying it. The redneck way of saying it may be something like “if yer gonna ‘cuse me of sumthin, you better be havin’ some proof, motherfu……” (I think you get it.) For example, there is no reason to assume that the gentleman pictured here is guilty of any heinous crime based solely on the fact that he had a toilet installed on the veranda of his family home. I’m assuming that this estate does not lie within the borders of a gated community. I’m also assuming that Mr. Porchpooper, Esq. is not talking to his investment advisor on the other end of that ultra-modern cordless phone. These assumptions are a true example of the complete abandonment of a fundamental aspect of our precious legal system. For all I know, this man might be the CEO of a chain of all-night diners, or the head of a powerful and exclusive investment club. You don’t know until all of the facts are presented and weighed. (Although I’m reasonably certain a decent lawyer could get a conviction based on this photo alone!)

It’s kind of the very basis of our legal system, and one that has been manhandled and molested in recent decades. Everybody’s got their favorite stories to point to as evidence of this, and I’m certainly one of them. The most recent of course, being the Casey Anthony trial. People are so sure that woman killed her daughter that we just can’t accept the verdict she eventually received. I wasn’t in the courtroom to hear all of the evidence, and I certainly didn’t watch all the overhyped, round the clock coverage that seemed to grip the minds of the weak and socially hideous. Of course I feel for the little girl, but I don’t feel any more for her than I feel for any other child that is killed. Accusing the mother of a crime for which she was found not-guilty is not our responsibility. If she did kill that girl, she will answer for her crimes but it will not be at the hands of humans. We’re not capable of delivering that kind of punishment here on Earth. Crack

Then there are the clear cut cases of guilt before proof that we’re not allowed to dwell on. Take the case of a young boy in Sweet Springs, MO that brought his mother’s crack pipe to school for show and tell. The boy had $3,700 worth of crack and crystal meth that he brought to show his classmates for show and tell. Ever hear of anything even remotely close to this happening when you were at that age? Now, we have become so jaded in this day and age that we naturally assume the drugs were the product of the mother’s addiction, but what if that’s not the case? What if the mother uses the pipe and drugs to illustrate a point in her role as anti-drug crusader? To assume that the mother is a criminal, or a drug addict just because the kid brought her glass trumpet and it’s smoking rocks to kindergarten would make me a racist, right? No. The mother was arrested and gave no such story. She’s a shame covered monster with rotting teeth in her mouth, poop in her undies, and no business whatsoever raising a child.

With at least a dozen channels out there offering 24 hour news coverage, there is fierce competition for your loyalty. The problem is that there are only 4-6 hours of news in any given day but these channels try to stretch those stories into a full day. Limited “big-stories” also means that each channel is trying to deliver you a unique spin on a common story. There’s only so much creative spin that can be applied to a story before fact becomes fiction. One channel blatantly leans toward the left side of the political aisle, (Not naming names, but I often refer to them as the Clinton News Network) while another stocks it’s anchor desks with human versions of Barbie and Ken and makes no attempt to hide the fact they lean to the right. While this happens to be the channel I choose to watch, I can certainly understand why some people refer to them as FauxNews. The constant and immediate access to news coverage from anywhere in the world has made everyone an expert. Everyone knows all the facts before a case ever makes it to trial. The pretrial verdict never seems to be acknowledged by those who get it wrong. That’s the beauty of news……you only report on the now. Reporting on a mistake you made in a prediction is not current, that’s old news and you now have to get in front of a camera and explain how you had predicted the outcome all along.

Take a look at the following videos and tell me if you notice the subtle differences. You may have to watch a few times to get it, but there are subtle, almost undistinguishable differences in speech patterns, excitement levels, biased inflection, and level of importance placed on the subject’s role in our society. Watch closely…..

Brian Williams is a fantastic news man, but he would be the first to admit that he’s no Walter Cronkite. No one has ever come close to the legendary anchor’s credentials, but Mr. Williams is simply a product of the changes in news and it’s constantly morphing accepted form. Notice the rehearsed and thespian like emotions on the faces of everyone involved in the story of Michael Jackson’s death. The tears that Mr. Cronkite was fighting to keep back were real, I assure you. That was as emotional as Mr. Cronkite ever allowed the world to see him. News was unbiased back then. It was simply a distribution of facts. Opinions and theories were the responsibility of those watching, not the one delivering. While Michael Jackson was obviously a gifted singer and entertainer, I want you to think for a second what his life would have been like without the show business career. If he had been a neighbor of yours without all the money, merry-go-rounds, zoo animals, sequins, and silk; would you have forgiven his constant molestation rumors? No, you would NOT have. Would you have accepted and endorsed the odd changing of his appearance, skin tone, and voice? No, you would NOT. Media has made us believe that these things are okay just as they have made us believe that celebrity is more important than character. While that may be true in the vacuum of the “News World”, it is NOT true in my world. We need to learn to separate the two.

I guess in the end you could make an argument that we do still adhere to innocence until proven guilty. Technology and increased speed at which information is disseminated have simply made guilt much easier and faster to prove. We still get it wrong from time to time, but for the most part, our legal system is still based on sound principals and philosophies. The problems that arise within it are the direct result of human involvement. Not the system itself.

As always, thanks for playing.