Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pride, Prejudice, & The Judicial System

I have been on trial (a bench trial) and I have sat through several trials.  Each time I walk away with mixed feelings.  I am amazed at how hard we try to be fair and the time and energy expended on picking jurors who will be impartial.  I am disgusted, though, by how easily prejudice and inequitable treatment of a defendant slips through the rather large cracks in the system.  Judges and Prosecutors have incredible power to shape their cases in ways that are favorable to their case.  In this case the Assn't DA has (rather unskillfully) tried to pick a jury that is flat out prejudiced against Ms. Mangum.  His questions to prospective jurors were designed to find out if they could be fair and impartial.  However, rather than doing the right thing and dismissing them when they said they had already formed an opinion (i.e. that they held a prejudice against Ms. Mangum) far from excusing them from serving he welcomed them aboard.  Luckily the Defense was able to blunt most of these attacks on the impartiality of the jury.  

The "State" has full time prosecutors, a full time staff, police officers who are willing to shade the truth or outright lie about what happened and the defendant (not just Crystal but ANY defendant) has to find a way to counter this onslaught of deceit, half truths, outright lies, distortions, and intimidation.  

Now, if you have money like those Lacrosse guys did then this isn't such a burden.  But for most people it really is a burden.  Having a Public Defenders office is something but compared to the Prosecutor's resources it really isn't a fair match.  The cops, the prosecutor, the judge, they all just go about their business whether they can convict this person or not.  For the defendant it is often their life hanging in the balance, they have a lot more riding on the outcome so it is much more stressful.  (If the first thing that pops into your head when you read this is "Well, they shouldn't have done the crime" then you win the label of "Prejudiced" because you have Pre Judged someone simply because they have been accused).

The thing you have to remember is that it is the job of the cops to find people who have committed crimes and arrest them.  In addition to any prejudices they might have against a particular individual or group (i.e. blacks, hispanics, etc) there is this built in hunting instinct that pervades "law enforcement".  A cop looks bad if he/she goes out on a call and does nothing.  If they go to a domestic disturbance and they don't arrest someone and then someone gets killed they will be blamed for not doing something.   So, I understand that there are inherent difficulties in police work. However, what has happened here is that these particular cops took actions they shouldn't have taken and then tried to cover up what they did.  That's the defense's point of view at least.

The trial starts today.  Let's all hope (pray if you must) that these cops find it in their hearts to tell the truth and not lie on the stand.  Yes, cops lie.  Not just some cops but many cops.  It is Standard Operating Procedure.  This I know from personal experience and from endless tales of friends and community members.

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