August 22, 2011

Western democracies pride themselves, among other things, in their system of administering justice. We often scoff at countries like China, Iran, Cuba and others while praising the greatness and fairness of our own judicial system. gavelOur Judge and Jury system, with the defendant’s fate in the hands of twelve of his or her own peers, seems almost idyllic. That is until the jury reaches a verdict that the media and thus the public disagree with.

With the recent acquittal of Casey Anthony in Florida, the jury had to go into hiding after receiving death threats, while Casey herself was also whisked into hiding. The media continues to hound her looking for blood, inciting those who still believe in her guilt to take action against her.

While the legitimate jury found that the State of Florida had not proven it’s case, the court of the “Media” with Judge Nancy Grace on the bench along with a jury consisting of lesser media types tried, convicted and sentenced Casey Anthony on television.  The moment she became a suspect. “Tot Mom” was guilty, just ask Nancy Grace. She’ll tell you. “The death sentence …. yes the death sentence”, people cried. “She’ll get the death sentence …..”

Back in the 90’s we went through a similar scenario with the acquittal of O.J. Simpson. “If it doesn’t fit, You must acquit!” rang through the court house as Johnny Cochrane and his high profile team showed the California jury that the State had not met the burden of proof and had to turn O.J. free. While O.J. is finally behind bars, he was forced to look over his shoulder at all times while free. The media never let the matter drop, always renewing the contempt the public held for him.

Do I feel sorry for these two individuals? Do I feel that they are innocent of the crimes they were charged with? No. Do I believe that the juries were right in coming to the decisions they came to. Yes. You see, the juries were selected on their ability to make a decision on evidence presented to them and on nothing else. Then they were sequestered away from the media and the hype that the rest of us were subjected to. The juries did exactly what they had been asked to do. I remember the O.J. Simpson case  and followed the Casey Anthony case closely. I could see early in the trial that the State was not meeting it’s burden. Had I been on the jury I probably would have gone along with the not guilty verdict.

What is more disconcerting in our justice system is the frequency of wrongful convictions. The Donald Marshalls, David Milgaards and the Guy Paul Morins of Canada should be of more concern to us. Did media hype at the time play apart in brining a jury to the conclusion that these men were  guilty as charged? Does the media play a part in the ongoing vendetta against Karla Homolka? A deal was struck with Homolka in order to get her to testify against Paul Bernardo. Without Homolka’s testimony he may well have gotten off. Is that deal not worthy of honouring now that her time has been served and Bernardo is serving life?

Taking away a Canadian’s freedom is the ultimate sanction imposed by the Canadian judicial system. Great care is usually taken, and I say usually, because obviously it is not always taken, to ensure that only guilty people are subjected to our ultimate sanction. When the media, other than reporting the news, takes a stance on the guilt or innocence of an individual, it takes away from the effectiveness and thus the fairness of our judicial system. Public opinion has no place in a court of law, nor do television cameras. Our judicial system becomes no more fair or viable than those of China, Iran and Cuba. We loose credibility and all of us are in jeopardy of someday running into a situation that could wrongly put us behind bars.

I have no love for the likes of Bernardo nor Homolka. Life in prison is far too light of a punishment. I have no desire to see any guilty person set free through technicalities or failure of the police or prosecutors to fulfill their burden. But there are no short cuts. Guilt MUST be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Then either bring back the noose or throw away the key. Forget about this parole after 25 yrs. They don’t deserve it.

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