Monday, June 13, 2005

Not guilty

Well, I was wrong. Michael Jackson has just been found not guilty on all counts.

Coming from a jury of eight whites, four hispanics, seven parents, a grandmother, etc., that's a pretty damn solid indictment of the prosecution and its case, which must have been even less credible than it appeared to be through the media lens. But stand by for a loud round of wailing and gnashing of teeth from the "family values" media, who were visibly hoping to make an example of Jackson.

I still wouldn't want my kids hanging out at Neverland, of course. Michael Jackson is definitely on the far side of strange and I'm not personally convinced of his innocence. But I'm still happy about the verdict. Prosecutors should have to prove their cases. This prosecutor didn't. All too often (as in 99% of the time) these days judge and jury -- heck, the whole court apparatus -- might as well be Kelly Girls working for the prosecutor.

A somewhat related story: In Michigan, they're considering eliminating preliminary hearings. Why? As the linked story says, 75% of defendants waive them anyway -- and a Fox News TV spot cited another chilling figure: 90% of defendants reach an agreement to plead guilty without ever going to trial.

Take another look at those figures: In three out of four cases, the defendant already knows the deck is stacked against him and doesn't even go through the motions of making the prosecution meet the minimal burden of convincing a judge that there's probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. And in nine of ten cases, it's "guilty" without a jury ever hearing the evidence, also because the deck is stacked. That means that no more than one in ten defendants actually gets a trial, and presumably many of them are convicted, too.

I'm one of those nine out of ten. In the prosecution of yours truly for felony non-support, I was prepared to go to trial ... and then I watched as the prosecutor, public defender and judge worked out a deal: If I pled guilty, I'd get probation, with a suspended imposition of sentence. If I went to trial, the judge would revoke my bail (even though I'd made my appearances and didn't seemingly represent a flight risk), and I could sit in jail until the trial. Heads the prosecutor wins, tails the defendant loses. Of course, I took the deal. And of course, the judge sat on his bench, smirked and required me to state, under oath, that I hadn't been in any way coerced to do so. I guess threatening a guy with a month in jail before he's been found guilty of anything, in order to extort a guilty plea out of him, isn't "coercion."

During that whole charade, I sat through several preliminary hearings. Not once did the judge find that there wasn't probable cause to believe a crime had been committed -- including one case where police observed someone buying a single small can of a "methamphetamine precursor" at a veterinary supply store, followed him out of the county, stopped him outside their jurisdiction, questioned him, searched him, searched his car, searched his home (without a warrant, having bludgeoned "consent" out of his girlfriend) ... and found not so much as one milligram of methamphetamine.

At least the Soviets turned their "justice" system into theatre. Ours is just a poorly made soap opera. So it's nice to see a full-blown trial and a jury with backbone for once.

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