I rarely have much interest in the public lead up to criminal trials. The trial of defendants in the court of public opinion holds no interest for me as the stories are unavoidably one-sided and thus can never resemble anything approaching truth. It’s why we hold trials, and it’s the fundamental principle of courts, trials, enquiries. While they make a decision to resolve a legal question, they are also hunting for truth, and hopefully justice. Decision, truth, and justice, and mainly in that order. They guarantee the first, try for the second, and hope for the third.
In many respects, it’s not unlike the TV shows or movies where they show a single event from multiple people’s perspectives, all of them slightly misleading, or more pointedly, highly subjective, with often a few common elements that they all saw and a list of other ones where they saw different things, missed others, or even had some that directly contradicted each other. And the court gets to figure out what “common” elements are the most “true”.
It’s the actual trial that matters to me, where a person’s one-sided view not only gets told but also tested. And so I find it fascinating to see other people’s reactions to the actual evidence when presented and tested at trials rather than just public opinion where it is just presented.
How to Make a Murderer is one of the latest fads that people railed about. Miscarriages of justice. Biased cops. Systemic discrimination. Blatant manipulation to falsify evidence. Lying. All of those things. Because the cops thought he was guilty and went after him to prove it by any means possible, apparently. And people who are often quite silent on these issues can watch the show and want to scream in fury. Shake their fists. Tilt at windmills. Because of the injustice of it all. How could a system fail to safeguard basic liberties against prosecution that borders on wilful ignorance of the presumption of innocence? Where is the justice?
Yet those same people are equally passionate about the Jian Ghomeshi trial and the court dealings of Bill Cosby. They have already decided in their mind that they are both absolutely guilty. And any cross-examination of the victims is disgusting. A miscarriage of justice. So obvious they’re guilty. Why is the system so unfair? Why don’t they change it so that the victims are automatically accepted, believed, supported? Why is there even a trial? How could a system fail to safeguard the victims against having to prove guilt to rebut a presumption of innocence? Where is the justice?
There is a saying that to hold two conflicting thoughts in your head at the same time is a mark of genius.
No, it’s not. It’s hypocrisy.
If you truly care about justice, you care about the integrity of the system for how it works for all. And the foundation of all of it, according to the original Blackstone maxim, is that “All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer.”
Once you accept that maxim, you can rail at the first without railing at the second. Or not rail at either if you disbelieve. But not both.