Archive for Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Letter: Rule of law

July 23, 2013


To the editor:

How is it that our society has lost its perspective on the rule of law in our country. Our judicial system is based on the very old English Common Law. When a crime is committed, the authorities do their level best to bring the offenders to justice. Justice, it seems, has become the equivalent of morality these days. It is a relative term based on what this or that group decides it is.

When an accused is charged with a crime, it becomes the burden of the state to prove their guilt. It is not up to the accused to prove their innocence. Are innocent people convicted? Yes. Are guilty people allowed to go free? Yes. This is the nature of the judicial system with which we live.

Convictions are not handed down based on mob rule or public opinion. Most criminal trials are decided by a jury that is agreed to by both prosecutor and defender. These are the rights handed down by the founding fathers. It is not a perfect system but it is the best system in the world.

When our leaders step in and work to manipulate this system, although one group might think it fair, we move dangerously close to totalitarianism where those that are in power make the rules and call the shots. What is one group’s liberator today may become their oppressor tomorrow.

“Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” — Sir William Blackstone


jhawkinsf 1 year, 4 months ago

I've heard that expression before, that it's better that ten guilty go free than one innocent person be convicted. Yet it seems to me, that in reality, that number ten has grown. Maybe it's now twenty, or fifty. With plea bargains, maybe it's a hundred or a thousand. Couldn't it be true that at a ratio of 10/1, the expression espouses wisdom, but at a much, much higher ratio, it's foolhardy? Or even dangerous to the safety and survival of a particular society?

jafs 1 year, 4 months ago

It's a difficult issue, I think.

Very hard to measure one against the other.

rtwngr 1 year, 4 months ago

No, jafs, it's not. We have laws and a court system to enforce those same laws. When the courts decide the guilt or innocence of an individual, legal appeals not withstanding, that should be it. If there are laws that need to be changed then we work through the legislative branch to accomplish that. We do not "measure" guilty versus innocent. There is no room for relativism when it comes to law. Absolutes do exist whether you wish to accept them or not.

jafs 1 year, 4 months ago

Please read jhf's comment and my response.

The question is whether or not it's preferable to have x guilty people go free than have one innocent person convicted.

And, I think that's a hard thing to measure - neither one are good, of course, but I find it very hard to say that one is worse than the other, especially if the number of guilty people acquitted grows larger.

Also, courts don't really decide innocence, they simply decide that the prosecution hasn't met it's burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And, what "absolutes" are you referring to?

Leslie Swearingen 1 year, 4 months ago

There is a law that states that the president can issue an executive order. President Obama did not just make that up.

mom_of_three 1 year, 4 months ago

And we are allowed to express our displeasure if we believe justice has not been done, whether just a common citizen or not.
the justice system has always played a role in race relations, from the supreme court on down, and luckily, people didn't always take what the courts had to say and just stop what they were doing.

rtwngr 1 year, 4 months ago

If you are referring to the George Zimmerman trial, justice was done. He was arrested, charged, and tried. Then he was found innocent. That is justice. Now, the outcome may have or have not been what you wanted but justice and revenge are different. Additionally, the only way that you can come to a conclusion that Zimmerman is guilty of a crime, is to first approach the shooting as an act of racism. If you view this through the prism of a racist act, then you would have every right to be outraged. The problem is, nobody can point to anything that makes Zimmerman a racist. Did he make a sterotypical judgement about Trayvon Martin's presence and intentions? I believe he did but that is not illegal and in and of itself, does not make Zimmerman a racist. What it proved was Zimmerman made a fatal misjudgement that cost a young man his life. How much Trayvon contributed to his own death will never be fully understood. There was an eye witness that saw Martin on top of Zimmerman hitting him. There were injuries to Zimmerman and photos to prove it. Zimmerman had lost sight of Martin for 4 minutes and rather than continue home, Martin reappeared on the scene. Martin told Jean-Tel that a "creepy looking 'cracker'" was following him. Is it possible that Trayvon Martin attacked Zimmerman, out of fear for his life, and wound up getting shot? Only two people really know what happened and one of them is dead. There was reasonable doubt to convict based on the charges filed. That doesn't make Zimmerman a racist.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 4 months ago

"Then he was found innocent". No, he was found not guilty.

jafs 1 year, 4 months ago

To be very precise, the jury found that the prosecution hadn't proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

That's all that's required to acquit somebody.

rtwngr 1 year, 4 months ago

@jhawkinsf and @jafs - You two can argue semantics all you want. To be found "not guilty" in a court of law means the same thing as to be found innocent of that crime. There is no verdict that says, "The prosecution failed to prove their case." So, to be precise jafs, you're wrong. That was an opinion offered by those sympathetic to the Martin case.

jafs 1 year, 4 months ago

Actually, you're just wrong on this one.

An acquittal is in fact a verdict that says the prosecution didn't prove it's case beyond a reasonable doubt, it's not proof of innocence, or anything like that.

The jury's job is not to decide guilt or innocence, it's to decide whether or not the prosecution has met their burden of proof.

In civil cases, interestingly, the burden of proof is lower, "preponderance of the evidence", which means "more likely than not". That's how a civil case can return a different verdict than a criminal one. So somebody who's been acquitted in a criminal case can in fact be found liable in a civil case about the same situation.

You do know, I hope, that many people are wrongly convicted, and those verdicts overturned later on. It's almost certain that guilty people are also acquitted.

rtwngr 1 year, 4 months ago

If you look up "Innocent" in a legal dictionary it will tell you that it is the same as to acquit, meaning the prosecution failed to prove its case. It is also considered synonymous with not guilty. Look it up if you don't believe me. You just refuse to admit that Zimmerman "might" be innocent and not a racist after all.

jafs 1 year, 4 months ago

I never said anything about Zimmerman.

If you want to continue conflating actual guilt or innocence with jury verdicts, I guess I can't stop you. But, they're very different things in reality, which should be very clear from many cases. There are lists of convicted people whose convictions were later overturned due to new evidence, including DNA evidence. And, I'm sure that people who are actually guilty are acquitted as well - do you think that OJ Simpson is innocent?

Our system is flawed in many ways, which mean that mistakes are often made.

Armstrong 1 year, 4 months ago

Nor does that "profile" fit into the image the media has created of Zimmerman

ebyrdstarr 1 year, 4 months ago

You're kidding, right? It was one of the top stories on every national news website I looked at yesterday. It was on the national evening news. There was no shortage of coverage of this.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 4 months ago

Relative to the trial itself, or the protests afterwards, it got very little publicity.

ebyrdstarr 1 year, 4 months ago

It's still got several headlines on the web, including CNN, right now. Sheesh. Yes, it has received less coverage than a three-week trial, but it's sure the most talked-about car accident in the nation.

elliottaw 1 year, 4 months ago

There is no proof he did anything, it was simple noted that he was there when the deputy arrived on the scene. There was also no n juries so it was not that bad of an accident.

Leslie Swearingen 1 year, 4 months ago

An executive order is a specific power of the president and the executive branch as provided by the US Constitution in Article II, Section 1.

Some famous examples of the past include President Eisenhower’s order to enforce the desegregation of schools.

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