Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rushing to Judgment from Coast to Coast

The dust is just beginning to settle from three of the most explosive legal cases since O.J. rode in the Bronco on the 405, long before we knew anything about “Carmageddon.”

First, there is Casey Anthony, where once again our jury system has left people outside the deliberation room scratching their heads.

Then there’s the DSK debacle. Dominque Strauss-Kahn’s accuser told her story publicly, and while I find it compelling and convincing, it won’t matter for the case; it is O-V-E-R.

And in Los Angeles, law enforcement’s latest example of dropping the ball is the case of the wrong bad guy arrested in the brutal attack on that fan at Dodger Stadium. After arresting a suspect, and telling just about everyone they "had their man," police have now let that suspect go, only to arrest two others, who are what they now call the ‘real’ suspects. Some say, “Hey, he was on parole. No charges filed so no harm, no foul.” Well, maybe–or maybe not. 

If you don’t think these news stories affect all the other run-of-the-mill cases in courtrooms each and every day, think again. From my days in the Los Angeles DA’s office, I was forced to clean up a ton of debris left behind by every quick-acting, non thinking, big-mouth prosecutor or police officer. During the Rampart scandal that tainted the LAPD, I had to hear defense attorneys drone on during voir dire about whether ‘police officers can be trusted.'

After the Duke Lacrosse case, where a corrupt district attorney turned a sex crimes case into a three-ring circus, I had to listen to defense attorneys make arguments comparing my legit victim to the phony victim in that case–or even worse, comparing me to DA Mike Nifong.

In the Dodger beating case, defense attorneys are already picking holes in the case against the ‘new’ suspects.  As a defense attorney, I’d do the same. If cops didn’t get right the first time, why would this case hold water? In fact, there is no doubt in my mind in light of the DSK case as well as the Dodger fan-beating case, courts and jurors will be inundated with the themes of ‘rush to judgment’ with either direct or indirect reference to these two cases. So, what went wrong, and why the rush to judgment?

It’s easy to blame the media. Rightly so, I have appeared on and watched many a cable panel try, convict and sentence before the first commercial break. Is this what we want from our justice system? But blame the media all you want, it’s the officials who make the decisions and it’s the officials' words on whom we rely.

As a prosecutor and defense attorney, we constantly have to deal with the fall out of the media. People blame the media yet it’s the public that feeds the media machine. So, I ask you why are we so obsessed with these cases, are the officials forced to give answers, and is the rush to judgment simply a rush to appease the media watching public?


Anonymous said...

Welcome to the information age ;-)
Luckily it seems that the justice system is handling the increased transparency pretty well. As for instance seen in the OJ and Casey Anthony trials where the public pressure to convict was immense but the courts didn't cave in to it.

Sandy said...

The media is like a slavering beast, hungering for more blood, more gruesome details, and it feeds on whatever information it can get - doesn't have to be based on facts. All these talking heads, all these talk shows, reality Tv, etc., have encouraged the Beast to demand - and get - more. The sealing up of evidence in the Coronado case(s) is a good thing, but that's what money can buy - silence, protection. What about the teeming masses, yearning to breath free? No... the Beast will chew them up as long as they have blood to spare.