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America's Debate > Archive > Assorted Issues Archive > [A] Big Trials and Legal Cases
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BoF
Normally I like to start a thread without the bias of my own opinion. This one, however, will require some preface. I’ll try to measure my words.

Over the years I have seen several high profile trials. One of the first was that of a Fort Worth multi-millionaire named T. Cullen Davis. With the aid of a great trial lawyer, “Racehorse” Haynes, Davis beat a murder rap and later an alleged murder for his scheme that supposedly included thirteen people, including his wife Priscilla and the divorce court judge.

Then there was O. J. Simpson and in recent months Kobe Bryant, Scott Peterson, Martha Stewart, Bernie Evers, Robert Blake (acquitted today), eventually Ken Lay and possibly Tom DeLay.

Media coverage of pretrial, trial and posttrial is increasing. On Thursday (March 10), Monday (March 14) and Tuesday (March 15) nights the Abrams Report aired hour specials on the Michael Jackson case. In my opinion, Abrams is ok. He seems knowledgeable and tries to be objective. Three hour special on Jackson, to use a British understatement, a bit excessive. I was talking to a friend at the coffee shop about an hour ago. He said that this isn’t journalism, but “chewing gum to divert the masses attention from the real issues.”

Thursday, March 10

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7160592/

Monday, March, 14

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7189404/

Tuesday, March, 15

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7208304/

I have lived most of my life with the belief (perhaps it’s a grand illusion) that presumption of innocence is more than a legal jargon—it’s a core value shared by most Americans. My friend at the coffee shop said that he thought this was once a core value, but one is rapidly “eroding.” I talked to two younger people--late teens who work there. Both said they did not believe presumption of innocence was a core value.

Michael Jackson is currently on trial in California. The jury is not sequestered. Last night, Joe Scarborough essentially declared Jackson guilty on a major prime time TV show and called him a creep.

QUOTE
SCARBOROUGH:  Let me ask you, Rabbi Shmuley, I look at Michael Jackson.  I liked the guy back in the 1980s.  I can’t stand to look at him on TV.  He’s a gross caricature of himself. 

I just—every day, I wonder, can people look at this guy and be fair?  I mean, you know Michael Jackson. Does he get even creepier the close you get to him?


<snip>

QUOTE
SCARBOROUGH: I think Michael Jackson walks.  And I think it’s a disgrace.

He’s guilty.


http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7208275/

I am not interested in discussing Jackson’s guilt or innocence or Jackson’s personality. Presumption of innocence is one of my core values. Declaring some one guilty or innocent while the trial is in progress is outside my comfort zone, though I’m fully aware that many others disagree.

Questions for Debate

1. Is “presumption of innocence” a core value for most Americans? Why or why not?

2. Is my friend at the coffee shop correct in saying that this value, if it exists, is eroding?

3. Did Joe Scarborough cross the line in what we might describe as honest, ethical and professional journalism?


I’ll have more to say about this later.
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Paladin Elspeth
QUOTE
1. Is “presumption of innocence” a core value for most Americans? Why or why not?

I think it's one thing to shoot the bull around the water cooler saying that so-and-so is guilty, but when it comes down to it, most people at least try to be a little more objective when their opinion stands to be counted in a court case.

QUOTE
2. Is my friend at the coffee shop correct in saying that this value, if it exists, is eroding?

Your friend possibly is correct. The news media colors our attitudes about these court cases, and we the curious public end up hearing things that jurors might not hear in murder cases.

QUOTE
3. Did Joe Scarborough cross the line in what we might describe as honest, ethical and professional journalism?

Maybe I'm the wrong person to ask, because I believe Joe Scarborough routinely crosses that line. He is more of a commentator than a journalist.

By the way, is it true that Robert Blake was found not guilty today?
BoF
QUOTE(Paladin Elspeth @ Mar 16 2005, 07:36 PM)
Maybe I'm the wrong person to ask, because I believe Joe Scarborough routinely crosses that line. He is more of a commentator than a journalist.

By the way, is it true that Robert Blake was found not guilty today?
*


I agree that Scarborough crosses the line routinely. Yet he describes himself as a "journalist" who has "seen everything."

Yes, Robert Blake was found not guilty.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7211376/
Aquilla
hmmm.gif

I find myself in the unaccustomed position of being in general agreement not only with PE, but with BoF as well... unsure.gif

Oh well, on with the questions for debate....

1. Is “presumption of innocence” a core value for most Americans? Why or why not?

This is a tricky question because I don't know that "presumption of innocence" is something I would term a "core value" particularly. It's a more of a concept or definition than it is a value per se. But, I think I know what BoF means here. I do think most Americans hold a sense of justice as a core value. They have a sense of right and wrong and they want to see right "win". I also think that despite complaints with our system of justice, most Americans believe in it and trust it to usually do the right thing. Foundational to that system of justice is the concept of "presumption of innocence", so there is an indirect support of this concept by most Americans I think. I'll expand a little more on this in the next question.

2. Is my friend at the coffee shop correct in saying that this value, if it exists, is eroding?

No, not that I've seen. But, you don't see it in public or on television. The place you see this "value" is in the jury room as a member of a jury. I've been on a few juries in the past and it has been my experience that members of a jury take their duty VERY seriously. They might watch Greta or any of the other talking head shows mentioned and shake their heads in agreement on other cases. But, when it comes to their case, no way. There is a sense that they know their particular case and how the law applies to it better than anyone. They are the experts and people like Scarbrough can take their opinions and shove them.

I've seen it happen in the jury room where 12 people pour over the evidence presented in the case and compare it with the judge's instruction on the law and how it applies. The first question asked is, "Did the prosecution prove their case?" If everyone agrees that no, the prosecution proved 98% of their case, you're done. Verdict - NOT GUILTY.

I think that's exactly what happened in the Blake case. I know quite a few lawyers here in So Cal who are familar with the case and every one of them told me Blake was going to be found not guilty. Why? The prosecution never put the murder weapon into Blake's hand. No Gunshot residue on Blake. To them, and to a jury in a court of law, that was proof positive that Blake never shot his wife.

So no, I don't think there's an erosion at all, not with juries.


3. Did Joe Scarborough cross the line in what we might describe as honest, ethical and professional journalism?


He never crossed that line because he was never on the other side of that line.
NiteGuy
Oh my gosh! Aquilla, rack up another "unlikely" agreement here. Must be your red letter day!

1. Is “presumption of innocence” a core value for most Americans? Why or why not?
Presumption of innocence a core value? Not unless your actually on a jury, or know somone currently involved in a criminal matter. We all love to gossip about the latest trial that gains the media's or public's attention.

At the time of the O.J. Simpson trial, I lived in Florida. It may be too far back for many of you here, but they actually broadcast this trial live everyday on both radio, and on a brand new, less than one year old cable station called Court TV. This trial went on for months, and every day, people in my office area would listen to the trial, and make comments along the way: "The forensics guy messed up, OJ's gonna get off" "His hand was cut, must have been in the struggle, according to the prosecution - OJ is toast" "Did you see that? The gloves the prosecution says he wore were way too small when he tried them on in fron of the jury - he must be innocent - or at the least the prosecution screwed up again. He's gonna walk."

People hear the words innocent until proven guilty, but until they actually sit on a jury, those words have little meaning, as far as general conversation concerning a particular trial.

2. Is my friend at the coffee shop correct in saying that this value, if it exists, is eroding?
Not at all. I've been seated on a couple of juries in my lifetime, including one criminal trial that lasted about a week. While others in town (people reading about it in the paper, or hearing about it on the local news) may have been rather cavalier in their comments, those of us on the jury took our duties solemnly and seriously, and looked at all of the evidence before rendering a decision.

3. Did Joe Scarborough cross the line in what we might describe as honest, ethical and professional journalism?
Again, I would have to agree with Aquilla and BoF here. Joe Scarborough may be many things, but "journalist" isn't one of them. He is a commentator, and a rather biased one at that. The same thing with Nancy Grace on CNN. Neither one of them met a defendent that they liked. I mean, they were arrested, so they must have done something illegal, right?

I've noticed with both of them, they seldom even bother with the term "alleged" anymore. They simply state that the guy did the crime, now how badly does the prosecution mess up to keep the guy from going to jail?

So, if this presumption of innocence is eroding at all, it's being eroded by those commentators of this ilk, with a definite agenda to push, but I don't think it's close to contaminating the legal system as of yet.
hayleyanne

Questions for Debate

1. Is “presumption of innocence” a core value for most Americans? Why or why not?

I do think it should be a core value. But practically speaking, I think that most people, when not serving as jurors, tend to believe-- if the person got arrested, he is likely guilty. To a certain extent that is true. Prosecutors don't want to spend the money prosecuting someone who they do not believe committed the crime. On the other hand, they can certainly be wrong. Remember that one girl in Utah that was abducted from her home and the police fixated on this guy that was a "person of interest" and then he died. Later, they found the girl alive and come to find out that poor man had died with that kind of smear on his name.

2. Is my friend at the coffee shop correct in saying that this value, if it exists, is eroding?

I think it might be eroding because of all the media coverage that immediately follows one of these types of cases. Usually the "story" evolves around the likelihood that this person (celebrity or otherwise) surprisingly committed some kind of horendous crime.

3. Did Joe Scarborough cross the line in what we might describe as honest, ethical and professional journalism?

That was completely inappropriate for him to say this. He likely gave voice to what most people think-- but he should not have said it.


Arty
1. Is “presumption of innocence” a core value for most Americans? Why or why not?

I'm not American, so I can't tell you about that. But the presumption of innocence is, as a legal principle, certainly at the heart of any fair legal system. The prosecution must produce enough evidence to show guilt. A person should never be made, at the outset, to produce evidence to prove that they are innocent.

That is a little different from the social concept of it, which is that we should not pass judgement on our peers without proof of guilt in court, which is like saying that we should not be quick to judge, but give people the benefit of the doubt. I think that that is important too, though not so essential. I think OJ was guilty, for example, and I won't apologise for that.


2. Is my friend at the coffee shop correct in saying that this value, if it exists, is eroding?

I have no idea. I'm not American, as I say.



3. Did Joe Scarborough cross the line in what we might describe as honest, ethical and professional journalism?


Totally. That's terrible journalism. It slightly depends whether he was suppoised to be reporting a news item or hosting a chat show of some sort (in which case he shouldn't have said it), or was doing a more editorial piece (where it might be more acceptable).
BoF
1. Is “presumption of innocence” a core value for most Americans? Why or why not?

Maybe the question should have been, do Americans believe in fairness as a core value and is presumptionn of innocence part of fairness?

2. Is my friend at the coffee shop correct in saying that this value, if it exists, is eroding?

I think my friend might be right. Here’s a quote from one of our members from another friend. Since when is the man in Florida guilty without a trial. Think alleged. rolleyes.gif

QUOTE(Ol Sarge @ Mar 20 2005, 10:22 PM)
To me the husband still should have the choice but the end should be humane and starving a person to death wouldn’t be tolerated even if it were the guy who killed and raped the 9 year-old in FL.  At least give her a lethal injection and be done with it.


3. Did Joe Scarborough cross the line in what we might describe as honest, ethical and professional journalism?

Scarborough crosses th line on a regular basis. One of the first instances I heard was when he lauded Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for saying he spent more feeding his police dogs than his prisoners. Joe thought it was the “real deal.” Oh, well.

Maybe Scarborough needs a taste of his own medicine. See link below:

http://www.allhatnocattle.net/congressman_...scarborough.htm
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