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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Criminal Trial as Sport

Criminal trial as Sport

     It is 0830 Saturday July 13, 2013.  That is important because it is 30 minutes before the jury in the Zimmerman trial returns to the courthouse in Sanford.  This could be a day that becomes historic in the modern annals of America.  I want to write before the verdict is returned because it is important to me that there be no perception that a verdict had any impact on my thoughts and positions regarding this matter.  At some time, I am sure, I will feel the necessity to record my ideas on what and why the whole Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman incident occurred and escalated to this position of importance.

     Many years ago our system of government was established with an eye to keeping a judiciary, and therefore the judicial system, separate from the other influences that government was subject to on a daily basis.  Those brilliant thinkers could have never foreseen the impact of the modern media because it has gone well beyond the pamphleteers of their day.  We suffer immediate and continuous inundation on every topic known to humanity while they often waited weeks, or even months, for news of the latest developments.

     I spoke with a lawyer who I hold in high esteem, and who was part of the defense team that represented Casey Anthony, in court the other day.  She was then, and now, not one to be drawn to the cameras like a moth to the flame of a candle and played the most important part in the acquittal of Ms. Anthony because she was the brains behind the jury selection and was responsible for the punishment portion of the case should it have come to that.  Anyway, she opined that she didn't think it proper for lawyers to be commenting on trials in which they play no role.  That is a position we share and I have offered many times.  Her co-counsel though do not share her ethical approach to what lawyers are supposed to do.  The exposure, or face time as they call it, on national television shows is more important than the oath we all took to be members of the bar.

     The lawyers I mention first because without them the television networks would be without any "color commentators" ala Harry Caray, Vin Sculley or Brent Musberger.  But, TV executives are just as culpable for this modern phenomenon, and, like the nattering nabobs, all in the quest for the almighty green American dollars.  This has led to a bastardization of the process we call "criminal justice."  The spin doctors are in control and if you don't believe it look back to the beginnings of this matter.  I was aware of this incident from the first time it made the news in central Florida because my daughter was a student there, and probably unbeknownst to her, scoured the websites for the events surrounding her community just to assure myself of her relative safety.  As a parent, a holder of a concealed weapons permit and a criminal defense lawyer I had a great deal of interest in this matter and the first time she mentioned it to me over the phone I had been fighting the urge to form my opinions and maintain an open mind.

     The local officials were proceeding with the investigation in a professional and workmanlike manner that did not meet the needs of a society that feeds on immediacy.  That caused alarms to go off for people who had no working knowledge of the criminal justice system and they decided they would go about directing the path this case should follow to meet their own desires.  The pictures of Trayvon Martin went from the 17 y.o. young man to a 13, 14 or 15 year old kid.  Information about his disappointing behaviors became as scarce as hen's teeth and the opposite became the case for George Zimmerman.  The national news media leaped on board like it was the last life boat leaving the Titanic.  The victim of this conscious decision to "direct" justice wasn't just Zimmerman it was our system and society as a whole.

     Never having had to suffer through trying a TV case I have never been subject to the pressures of satisfying the public with my brilliance and cute sayings that make headlines.  However, when the prosecution, knowing the cameras are rolling, refers to the poor 17 y.o. child like they have never prosecuted teens even younger for crimes more heinous it makes you retch.  This is the same office that prosecuted a 12 y.o as an adult and was proud of it!  Maybe that was truly a pursuit of justice but, if so, their presentation in this TV trial is a perversion of that same pursuit.  Television effects many things in different ways - some positive some not!

     There needs to be a revisiting of courtroom procedures and processes for trials that end up a modern day Roman Circus.  Criminal trials should not be entertainment and they should not be commented on by lawyers with no skin in the game other than their TV exposure and whatever paycheck they get for their efforts.

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