Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Is this really "the problem" with the system?

Unless you live under a rock, or your TV is broken you probably heard the news yesterday: Casey Anthony was found "not guilty" on all charges directly related to the death of her two year old daughter Calee in 2008, save only the four counts of providing false information to the police.

(Which, let's face it, is something that probably been done by every single human being ever accused of a crime since the beginning of human history.)

My boss actually had a news feed up on his computer, so we heard the verdict pretty much as it came out.  Several of us were "following" the case, so naturally there was a lot of interest. (No, we don't work in a law office.) And I should say that I haven't been "following" the case, so much as I was bombarded by it.  There were 16,442 people murdered in the United States in 2008, but I'll be damned if I can name a single other case off the top of my head.  But hey: An attractive white woman, acting strangely I might add, a cute white kid, weird circumstances and answered questions? That's NEWS (I guess.)

I'm not trying to say that Calee doesn't deserve justice, nor even that I don't think Casey did it. (I DO, but more on that in a minute.)  The thing is, those 16,442? Are based on CONVICTIONS. How many OTHER cases of dead people in 2008 went uncovered by the media? How many OTHER victims didn't get justice? How many OTHER people got away with it?  That's the first thing that annoys me about these kinds of stories.

Another is NANCY FUCKING GRACE.

Oh my Holy Lord in Heaven, is there any other human being anywhere on this big and beautiful planet MORE ANNOYING and MORE GRATING that Nancy Grace?!  Holy crap, I honestly think I'd rather have Ann Coulter on my jury!  And I AGREE WITH HER! I don't even really have a problem with he JUDGEMENT in this case! I think she's basically got  it right! I just can't stand listening to her!

Here's the thing...  A few weeks back, CNN had a prominent defense attorney on air to discuss the case and he basically said, "Here's what the prosecution will try to say. Here's what the defense will counter with. And here are the issues that the jury will need to sort out." There may have been something in there about the states burden of proof, but it was basically a balanced, objective summary of the case, for the benefit of those who've managed to otherwise avoid or miss the massive coverage of it. Then they turned to Nancy. Her response, and I'm paraphrasing here, was something like this:

"THAT'S A LOAD OF BULLSHIT, MARK.  THE BITCH IS GULITY AS HITLER, AND DESERVES TO DIE - AT LEAST TWICE - IN THE MOST INHUMANE WAY POSSIBLE. ACTING LIKE SHE DID PROVES BEYOND ANY DOUBT THAT SHE'S A LOUSY DAUGHTER, A LOUSY MOTHER, AND AN INHUMAN, MURDERING PUDDLE OF POND SCUM!"

...Which is what I guess passes for objective reporting on what Conservatives refer to as the "Communist News Network." (Or, as I call it, "Chicken Noodle News.")

And understandably, there were some pretty strong opinions being expressed around the office when the verdicts were announced.  A betting pool was immediately drawn up on Casey Anthony's life expectancy, and one of the more prominent opinions was: "THIS is what's wrong with our system."

Now… These were conservative guys. Not morons, professional people I respect, but conservatives. And what they were feeling was that (1) she was guilty and (2) she was let off. So (3) “the system” doesn’t work. We also got into a discussion about the 4th Amendment and how it’s bullshit that evidence obtained “illegally” was automatically inadmissible, particularly when it revealed the TRUTH of the matter. Now, I LOVE taking on Conservatives in these kinds of discussion, because I can do so from [their own] libertarian point of view, without having to wear my politics on my sleeve.

I simply asked them: How else can you protect our rights? You wouldn’t even know the person was guilty until AFTER you violated their rights! So what good is any protection of privacy and private property if there are no repercussions to the state for violating it? What else would you do? Punish the Cops?! Throw them in jail or sue them? Sure. And good luck getting any more cops to search shit from that point forward. It wouldn't work. So, flawed as it is, this the best you can do and not live in a police state.

And the whole reason we were even talking about that was that I said that I wanted to get an idea of the disparity between the case that was presented to the jury and the story that was told to us by the media. Sure: We’re all torqued up about this woman’s guilt because that’s how the media wants us. (And to anyone who thinks they always get it right, I have three words for: Jean Benoit Ramsey. And you and Nancy Grace owe her later-mother an engraved apology! Big time!) And who knows…? Maybe they even had some inkling as to where this case was heading. So by presenting one side, they might be able to milk this story even longer. Who knows? In any case, this case, for better or worse, is clear evidence trails are NOT tried in the media or the court of public opinion, and I for one think that’s a VERY GOOD THING.

Also… As you may know I like to think of things a little bit differently. I kind of have a “freakanomics” way of looking at the world, only with a progressive / liberal bias. And the one other Liberal in the office asked an interesting question to that end:

Do you think she might have been convicted, is she was being tried in a state that did NOT have the death penalty?

And honestly? I DON’T KNOW. It’s hypothetical, and there’s no way to prove it one way of the other, unless one of the jurors were to come right out and admit it, but it’s certainly one of the more effective, if somewhat more cynical, arguments against the death penalty that I’ve heard; A point that I never really considered: Could abolishing it end up in MORE convictions?

And just FYI: I SUPPORT the Death Penalty. Not blindly, of course, and not in all cases that it's been applied, and not the system that currently administers it. But the practice, in general? I’m basically OK with. And before anyone gives me the Liberal arguments against it, don’t bother. I’ve heard them before and I don’t care. But don't worry... I don’t get much love from Conservatives on the issue either. Because I don’t buy their bullshit about it anymore that I care about the far more fact-based arguments being presented by Liberals. I support it, yes, but I’ll happily admit: It’s a vice. It’s a vice that satisfies the sin of wrath, nothing more. Someone is dead, I’m angry about it, so someone must die. As long as it’s the RIGHT person? I’m basically OK with it.

Which brings me back to the case at hand: Did she do it?

Well, she certainly ain't winning any ‘mother of the year’ awards. She seems guilty of gross parental negligence at a minimum. (Something she wasn’t even CHARGED with!) If my kid were missing for three minutes I’m panicking. And after thirty? I’m calling the cops. But thirty DAYS?! Holy crap! So her first story was bullshit. I get that. So she’s also a liar. But there is an established burden of proof that the state MUST meet to convict someone of a Capital Crime. And in the absence of being able to establish either the CAUSE or the TIME of death? That burden gets very difficult to meet.

And so, unfortunately, since real life is not like CSI on TV, they had no case; just the least sympathetic defendant who didn’t yell “Allah Akbar!” at the time of the crime.

And here’s where my freakanomic thinking comes in… If you’re a Conservative, arguing with a Liberal about the Death Penalty, or tougher prison sentences, or anything else that falls under the “cruel and unusual punishment” venue, isn’t the fact that Casey Anthony got off PROOF that the system DOES in fact work? Doesn't it PROVE that we can’t possibly falsely convicting that many people if even a terrible, terrible person like her got off? Should this silence all of the Liberal critics of our legal system? If the Right wasn’t so blinded by their own anger, they might realize that this is actually a VICTORY for them! Kind of like how O.J. Simpson getting off (the first time) is proof that the system isn’t racist!

Even though... People are shown by DNA evidence to have been falsely convicted ALL THE TIME.

And Blacks are more likely to be executed, and receive tougher sentences than whites convicted of the exact same crimes.

But… I guess they’d still rather execute a couple more people than to be able to argue that the system works. See? I TOLD you it was a VICE!

BTW… If you ever have someone say something to the effect of “I’d rather send an innocent man to prison than risk letting a guilty man go free,” PLEASE hit them in the head with a brick that has the word “MORON!” engraved in it. And once they come to, ask them: If an INNOCENT MAN (AKA: NOT THE GUY WHO COMMITTED THE CRIME) went to prison, what happened to the guy who ACTUALLY COMMITTED THE CRIME?! (Um… I’m pretty sure he went free, FUCKWAD!) See… The guilty guy goes free either way! But these jack-holes would rather compound this legal cluster-fuck by sending THE WRONG GUY to prison on top of it! That’s how they want the system to “werk,” I guess.

The real problem here is how the media chooses to cover these things, and how they choose the cases they want to cover at all.  And this is compounded by the public's belief that they can draw any conclusions about our legal system from the media: An entity that focuses on one case at a time out of TEN THOUSAND (or more.) (16,442 in 2008!) By definition ANY case being given this kind of coverage the media can onlybe the exception: It's 1 out of 10,000+ after all!  You don't learn about significant trend with a NON-RANDOM sample size that small.
One last thing… There was a couple of great articles in Crack about bullshit the media thinks is news, and how the media makes bullshit look like fact. Worth a read. Oh, and here’s some GOOD NEWS that nobody’s talking about! (That last one has a little bit of conservative bias to it, at least the way I see it, but still: Good news is good news!)

8 comments:

  1. I refuse to follow this kind of tabloid trash, but if someone thinks this verdict is representative of a systemic problem, ask them what that problem might be. We have a very long list indeed of known systemic problems; this case, so far as I know, doesn't invoke any of them. There's no reason to think this is anything more than a case of a prosecutor who simply failed to make his case (and the prosecutor apparently recognizes that himself--after the verdict was announced, he said he was retiring).

    To make explicit the thing at which you hint really strongly, this is not news. I know several people who became very emotionally involved with it, as always happens when the press becomes obsessed with a story of this sort, and it's the biggest waste of time and energy imaginable. Project Censored will no doubt punch Nexis buttons and come up with the amount of time the tv press spent on this story that, a story that, no matter what the outcome, is of absolutely no consequence to the lives of anyone except those directly involved. The amount of hours the press spent on it will be absolutely appalling, while real news of serious import to every American went entirely unreported.

    I've been committing something akin to journalism with regard to the Media Research Center of late. That can be seen as something of relatively minor merit, but the MRC is representative of and a provider of information to a reactionary juggernaut within the population that is a viscerally opposed to every value every American worthy of the title holds dear, and the story of the MRC is, in microcosm, the story of how we ended up saddled with such a fat chunk of the public that has such a brutal disregard for reality.

    I go further and say that I don't even care if Casey Anthony is guilty or not. The verdict isn't indicative of any systemic problem, and it simply doesn't matter. It doesn't affect anything, and anyone who would see that view as heartless is allowing the press to tell them the things about which they should be emotional.

    The other side of this, of course, is that the press does such a piss-poor job of covering real news, maybe it's best that they're all down in Florida with thumbs firmly in anuses; it keeps them from making such a godawful mess of something that actually matters. But then, people get their info from Fox, talk radio, and the rest.

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  2. The bottom line is the prosecutors did not make their case and that was fortunate for the defendant. The bigger problem is that the prosecution often does not make their case and the defendant is still convicted due to their poor representation, perjured testimony or prosecutorial malfeasance. I am in all cases against the death penalty...not just as a liberal but as a Christian who is deeply involved in prison ministry. I have met murderers that are rehabilitated and our lust for blood vengeance does not one single positive for society at large. It is not a deterrent, it is expensive, and it takes away a prisoners last chance at redemption. We have no business being in the murdering business. Until all defendants get full throated defense and not just the ones wealthy enough or with high enough profile cases to get it pro bono then the death penalty is a travesty. Let me take it farther and really get some people excited...I am against life without parole unless a prisoner continually proves he is a threat to society. I speak from experience and am far from a pushover do gooder. Let me also add the juveniles should never never never be tried as adults. Treat them, rehabilitate them. The prosecution in this case had all the tools at their disposal to make this case and they did not. They either sucked or it was not a good case or they jumped the gun and played their cards too soon when they should have waited for the right evidence. The jury got this one right and it made them sick to do so. Let me add that I live in New Orleans...land of crooked, arrogant, lying, criminal cops and a lazy, politically motivated prosecutors office. No one gets a fair trial here. Look at the Danziger Bridge and Glover cases...both tried by the feds because the stupid locals blew them or blew them off.

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  3. I would add that evil prosecutors are one of the major banes of our criminal justice system; ill-intentioned clowns who pursue cases that are without merit as a means of advancing themselves politically.

    I remember a fellow named Johnny McMillan who, in the late '80s, was convicted, over in Alabama, of murdering a woman, in spite of multiple witnesses who said he was working on a truck at a family barbecue at the time of the crime. 60 Minutes dug into it and discovered that the prosecutor had covered up exculpatory evidence, and that all three of his key witnesses had perjured themselves. He knew it, and had put them on the stand anyway. McMillan was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The prosecutor, who had used the case to politically aid himself, was totally unrepentant (McMillan was later freed).

    Time and time again, this story is the same, or it would be if anyone bothered to report it. There was a case in Nebraska, about five years ago, that drew a lot of my attention (and ended up getting me a lot of sh!t from people who disagreed with me). An utterly unscrupulous attorney general, a creature of the religious right with his eyes on a Senate seat, prosecuted a 22-year-old man for having sex with his wife, who was 13. The two had been involved in a relationship for some time, and, with the approval of both of their families, had gone to Kansas to get married.

    Enter the very publicly self-righteous state Attorney General John Bruning, who declared that the marriage "doesn't matter," was the product of a "ridiculous" law in Kansas, and declared "I'm not going to stand by while a grown man... has a relationship with a 13-year-old--now 14-year-old--girl." It didn't matter than the law, the couple, and both families were united against him. Bruning pressed ahead mercilessly, first taking the case out of the hands of the local district attorney, after the D.A. showed reluctance to proceed (an unprecedented move), then filing first-degree sexual assault charges (which could have meant up to 50 years in prison). The families economically broke themselves trying to defend the husband, and he was forced to plead guilty. By then, the couple had a child (the wife had been pregnant when Bruning had become involved), and the husband was sentenced to prison. He served 14 months.

    Think of the situation in which everyone finds themselves after this: because of a scumbag right-wing politicians' desire for higher office, a family with a new child is economically destroyed, the husband sent to prison for over a year (which all the nightmares that entails for someone convicted of such an offense), and branded, for the rest of his life, as a sex offender, which will help keep him in a hole.

    The only good things to come of it: Bruning lost his bid for the U.S. Senate. That, unfortunately, is probably the exception, rather than the rule.

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  4. I have never been so perplexed by a news story before. I kept trying to figure out.. "Why is this important?"

    I mean, lately, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez's illness (or debated lack of one?) is in the news nearly everyday lately. I think.. "This is a little creepy.

    Now, I'm not saying we shouldn't keep informed on what's going on in the rest of the world. I think we actually have too little of that in the media. We don't have headlines once a day keeping us up-to-date with the broken leg that Zimbabwe's president may or may not have, according to conflicting witnesses.

    But at least I sorta-kinda get that. US has a history with Venezuela, and "Chavez" and "Venezuela" are buzzwords that resonate in American minds. Also, "important" people are sorta hoping he dies so they can put in a leader that will kiss US's ass and sell Venezuelan oil and break trade borders. (Being blunt.)

    But Casey Anthony's story makes no goddamn sense. It's literally just a creepy version of media feeding on eachother to make a small story big. I think if they ALL put their minds to it, they could make a story of a random man fighting a traffic ticket a NATIONAL HEADLINE.

    I should add, though, and I really hate to admit it... I think this is also how the Wisconsin union-stripping bill was made national news. Scott Walker basically admitted he didn't think that the story would obtain the media interest that it did... and I think that's logical.

    It's certainly not the subject matter, this was happening in several states around the country. It wasn't the protests.. the media will ignore dozens of liberal protests and bounce to every tea party protest with their funny signs, flamboyant costumes, and dangerous guns.

    And yet the story built and built until it was known across the land. And I think it was... basically a fluke. That a bunch of media organizations happened to post stories about it, and when they saw that their competitors were posting stories about it, deemed it worthy of following.

    It's the ONLY explanation I can come up with that predominantly explains why some stories are news, and others are not. (Besides other helpful variables. Yes, she's white with a white daughter victim.)

    My point is... the media blows, EVEN when it does something that seems positive.

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  5. @Classicliberal: Amen, Brother. (both posts)

    Politicizing justice is pretty much every bit as bad as corporitizing it. Justice MUST be principled. It must be objective. And it MUST be dispationate. Profit and politics are not condicive to that. And you see DA's with higher political ambitions ALL THE TIME who bend the rules to pump up their conviction numbers so they can claim to be "tough on crime." Which is just Fascist nonsense IMHO, since they should really be more concerned about the RULE OF LAW, and making they GOT THE RIGHT GUY, rather than just the fact that they got the conviction.

    @jlarue: In the case of the Death Penatly the "Liberal" and "Christian" positions are really one and the same, and really for the same reason. And please understand: I admire your position and fully admit you are a better person than I am for having it. You're absolutely right, I just can't bring myself to feel the same way.

    And I'm with you 100% on teh whole Juvie/Aduit thing though. And in my experience, I've found that people who disagree with that are seriously misinformed about what that actually MEANS and what alternatives (to a full adult trial) are either already available or COULD be. They don't understand that it has for more to do with the PROCESS than the actual PUNNISHMENT.

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  6. On the death penalty, I'm totally opposed to it, as well, but not on any moral grounds--a lot of the bastards who are sentenced to it deserve to go out in exactly that way. My concern is more practical. The state can't even keep pot-holes filled. I don't want an entity with that level of competence being given the power to kill us.

    A few weeks ago, you wrote about the documentary "Hot Coffee," about tort reform. You really should try to see that--part of it ties into what you just wrote, there. A portion of the movie deals with the massive campaigns, by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to try to defeat elected judges around the various states; they want compliant judges who won't rule against business interests, and they spend lots of money portraying the ones they're trying to defeat as "soft on crime." I've never favored elective judgeships, precisely because of that kind of bullshit. It has no place in the judiciary.

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  7. I agree with CL, and for some of the same reasons, and more. Some 25 or more years ago I was jury foreman on a drug case. As it turned out in deliberations, we were all leaning toward acquittal until the defense attorney stupidly put his client on the stand. He looked dodgy on direct, and the ADA destroyed him on cross. Had I known then what I know now, I'd have held out for not guilty, because the case wasn't proved. I'm only glad it wasn't a death penalty case, because I've had enough midnight confrontations with my conscience over it as it is. This is why:
    About ten years later I was closely following the Northern Ireland Peace Process, and someone sent me a book, "Stolen Years," by Paul Hill, one of the Guildford Four. In brief, the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven spent a combined total of 140 years in prison for two horrific IRA bombings, IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT THE POLICE AND PROSECUTORS KNEW THEY WERE INNOCENT. Now, this is where the link to my case comes in. Hill writes, "I watched Gerry ("In the Name of the Father" Conlon) testifying. He was terrified. I knew he was telling the truth, and he looked like he was lying. The peelers WERE lying, but they were smooth, and looked like they were telling the truth."
    Well, that shook me, I can tell you, and I can still see "my" defendant on the stand as I type. I wouldn't wish what I feel about this on anybody.
    But then, there's this. The judge in that case was furious that he (by just a couple of years, I think) no longer had the power to SENTENCE THEM TO HANG.
    Well, that was my "Road to Damascus" moment. I am opposed to the death penalty under any standard short of "to an actual certainty." And that, my friend, is a standard that I don't think can be met.

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  8. @ JLaure, Classic & Conch - Please see later post on CP.

    @ Dradeus - For some reason, your comment got spam-filtered, so I'm only seeing it now.

    I'm afraid I can do no more than say that I agree with you 100%. And about the only explanation I can offer is, "Anything to avoid talking about the Corporate takeover of America." (Although that STILL doens't explain WI.)

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