Saturday, November 20, 2021

Standard Of Proof

Under the law, you have to meet a certain standard of proof to win a case - and in criminal cases, this standard is the highest.

A reader wrote to me, somewhat outraged by the Rittenhouse trial.  Not that he was acquitted, but that he was tried at all, since "clearly" he was innocent by dint of self-defense.  My point to him - and to anyone - is not to get riled up by these trials.  The media wants you to get riled up because it gets you to watch.  They really don't care about you.  During some previous trials, the media went so far as to speculate as to the extent and number of riots that would occur when the verdict came down.  It seemed to me that they were hoping for riots as that was good for business - their business - as it would get more outraged people to watch.

Stop being outraged.  It doesn't matter whether you think Rittenhouse was guilty or not - your opinion and mine don't matter.  What matters is the opinions of 12 jury members.  And they decide based on the evidence presented, not on what the news people present.  And yes, often they decide "wrong" and that is the nature of the justice system.  It is run by people and thus by nature, imperfect.

Pining for perfection in the world and getting upset when it doesn't occur is a sure-fire way to end up getting depressed.  The media plays this tune all the time, on a cheap harmonica.  The world is not perfect!  Governments are inefficient!  People get away with crimes!  Bad things happen for no reason! Humanity is doomed!  All of these things are true, but not really alterable.  Perfect governments never existed, and the idea of a dictator "getting things done" has been proven wrong since the dawn of time.

So relax and let it all go and appreciate the world for all its beauty and appreciate the decent people in the world.  The beautiful world is outside your door.  The decent people are all around you.  The beautiful world isn't on television, nor are the decent people.  Think about this for a second - what is the prime meat for television shows?  Crimes and people being boorish and stupid.

So just turn that shit off and be happy.  That's why I call the television the depression box.

I tried to explain to our reader that as a lawyer (well a retired one, anyway) I could see where Rittenhouse would likely be found not guilty, but that this doesn't mean he was exhonerated or that his life will go back to "normal" in any way.  It doens't mean what he did was a smart move, or even morally correct.   When riots break out, the best and only thing to do is to run in the opposite direction and let the police sort things out.  No personal property or used car lot is worth risking a life over.  And it could have gone very differently - with Rittenhouse the dead on the ground, trying to save a lot full of used cars.  Would you be willing to die for a used car dealer?  Quite frankly, they are the scum of the earth.  And likely they were hoping the place would be torched so they could collect insurance money.

But I digress.

In the law, we have what is called "Standard of Proof" and depending on what kind of case it is and what is being proven, the standard varies, from "preponderance of the evidence" to "beyond a reasonable doubt" - the latter the standard in criminal cases.

It is damn hard to prosecute criminals.  You have to catch them first, collect enough evidence and testimony to show they are guilty and then prove this to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.  So long as the defense can raise this reasonable doubt the jury will likely acquit.  And it is not a hard-and-fast standard nor is justice always done.  OJ Simpson, for example,  got away with murder, quite literally.  A jury found "reasonable doubt" only because the police and prosecutors made some gaffes, and the media turned the case into a circus - and the judge let them.  Televising court cases was, is, and will always be, a bad idea.  Our legal system should not be entertainment.  But then again, how many television shows are about court cases?  I guess trials have always been the highest form of theater, and the best lawyers are also great actors.

But even though OJ was acquitted (not "found innocent" please!) he was found liable in the resulting civil suit, where the standard of proof was far lower (and the media circus had largely left town by that point).

So when I heard about this Rittenhouse thing, I didn't get all riled up about it.  A jury would decide and their decision would not be affected by how hard I watched television.  And you could watch television as hard as you can, and it still wouldn't make a rats's ass difference.  I know that is hard to wrap one's head around, but it is the basic truth.  You have to let these things go and not get obsessed about them.

The hard-core political types, the foreign trolls, the useful idiots, and so forth have other ideas.  This is important stuff and you need to make it the centerpiece of your life!  Right now, some of the folks on the far right are laughing and saying, "We owned the libs!  Yee-Haw!" but the reality is, it was a court case, not a referendum on Trump or whatever.  And the case was decided on the facts, not on emotions, and according to the standard of proof required.  The fact the jury deliberated for three days shows that they carefully reviewed the evidence before jumping to conclusions.  And "not guilty" does not mean "innocent" - not in any court in the world.

On the other side of the spectrum are those who claim this is an injustice - and are shocked, shocked, I say, to that injustice exists in the world in any way shape or form.  These folks don't get out much, I think.  So they decry the justice system as "rigged" and the judge as "biased" and the prosecutor as "incompetent" and so on and so forth.  They've been watching too much Perry Mason, I think.   As trials go, it was pretty standard.  No trial is perfect, which is why it is hilarious when someone picks apart a conviction (usually as part of one of these "innocence" projects) for having errors.  Whether the errors were relevant to the outcome is the real key.

And speaking of which there was a fellow on death row in Oklahoma whose sentence was commuted to life without parole the other day.  His lawyer said this was a sign that he was "innocent" of the crime.  Lawyers love to try cases in the court of public opinion - don't let them.

The Rittenhouse case was not an example of outrage for either side.  He should have been put on trial as people were killed.  The outcome was not an outrage as the defense could argue that there was reasonable doubt as to whether it was self-defense or not.  If you go to grab someone's gun, there is a valid argument to be made that they were in "fear of imminent death or great bodily harm" if they let their gun be taken away from them.  See someone with a gun?  Run the other direction as fast as possible.

Sadly, both sides of the political spectrum will use this case to make political points.  And our overseas adversaries who troll social media will stir the pot - and in fact, are already doing so.  They want to divide us from one another and get us so outraged we stop thinking logically and start thinking emotionally.  Getting worked up over these trials is a case in point - it blinds us to reality.

There will be another verdict (or a hung jury) soon in the Aubery case.  Like I said, I know one of the jurors is a rabid Trump fan, so I predict a hung jury is a distinct possibility.  As with the Rittenhouse case, when you go after people, carrying a gun, bad things will happen, and you should be held accountable for manslaughter at least.  Stop chasing after people with guns.  Stop bringing guns to the situation.  It isn't helping and the results are predictable.

That being said, I can see the defense will argue that when Aubery grabbed the shotgun, he pulled back on it, which caused the gun to go off, as the other fellow had his hand on the trigger.  Alternatively, they will argue that the shooter was "in fear of imminent death or great bodily harm" if Aubery got ahold of the shotgun.   Again, it doesn't matter whether you or I agree with these arguments, but whether 12 jurors think there "reasonable doubt" that these arguments have merit.  It doesn't take much to meet this standard.  An acquittal is entirely possible.

But again, even if acquitted, I doubt the lives of the men involved will ever get back on track.  Likely they will have to move somewhere to get away from the notoriety.  I am sure their neighbors at Satilla Shores would like it if the whole thing blew over.  I suspect they may rename that housing development as a result.  Would you want to live there?  With protesters and police cars parked out front?  Didn't think so.

The law is not a perfect machine - no endeavor of man is perfect as we are imperfect beings.  We strive to make it better, but the bottom line is, our imperfect behavior is what creates injustice, not the system itself.  Yes, it is sad that a black man gets harassed - and killed - jogging through a white housing development.  It is sad also that I can't go jogging through the housing projects in downtown Brunswick without facing similar harassment and physical danger.  It sucks that some people think rioting is a legitimate response to injustice.  And it sucks that some folks seem to relish the idea of joining the riot and causing even more mayhem.  Maybe if people weren't so shitty to one another, that would put an end to injustice.  Relying on courts and juries is only a backstop, not our first line of defense.

But the main thing is, getting upset when life isn't perfect isn't making your life any better, but in fact, far worse.