Monday, July 15, 2013

RESPECT THE SYSTEM - IT WORKS

My son, Brett, played baseball from the time he could walk until he was eighteen.  He knew the game well and was an excellent fielder and learned to be pretty good with a bat.  From the age of sixteen to the end of his career at eighteen he was close to the top on his team, if not at the top, in on base percentage, batting average, walks, and a strikeout was a rarity.  He had a good eye for the baseball and usually could take some close calls that would make me sigh until the umpire called it a ball.  He had a really good eye when at the plate.

When he was seventeen though, there was one game that year that drove both of us crazy.  Brett walked up to the plate and was called out on strikes his first at bat.  The same thing happened his second at bat and he had a few words for the umpire as he walked from the plate.  The umpire stared at him as he walked away and I knew that if he said something to the umpire again, it would be an early night for the kid.  As he entered the dugout after his second strikeout I walked over to him to, first off tell him NOT to talk to the umpire again and secondly to ask him what was going on.

From my vantage point standing next to the fence in shallow right field I could tell that the umpire was calling some pitches that were a little high  strikes, but the umpire was calling them consistently which an umpire should try for.  When I got to Brett I asked him why he was standing and watching the strikes go by.  He matter of factually told me that those pitches were not strikes, but rather at his shoulders or higher.  He was not going to swing at pitches that were obviously not strikes even though the umpire continued to call them strikes.  Brett was not happy.  I found myself lecturing Brett that if the umpire was calling high pitches strikes, then they were strikes.  What he thinks did not matter, but it was what the umpire was seeing that mattered.  If he called them strikes, they were strikes.  I explained that he could at least try to make contact with those high strikes and foul them off or possibly come away with a hit, but the umpire was not going to change the strike zone that night just for him.  He grudgingly took my advice and began to view the high pitches as strikes instead of having a battle of will with the umpire over what was a strike and what wasn't.

I tell this story in light of Saturday nights outcome of the Zimmerman trial being held in Florida.  Whether you agreed with the decision the jury came to or not, the system worked the way it was suppose to.  I am not saying the system is perfect, it isn't.  I do however firmly believe that it is the best system of justice in the world and the only way that it does work is by accepting what the jury concludes, respecting that decision and move on.

I can't say I have always agreed with every jury decision that I have witnessed in these cases that carry a national interest with them.  For example the O.J. Simpson trial.  O.J. was acquitted with what I think was much more evidence against him then the prosecution presented against Zimmerman.  The majority of the country was certain that Simpson was guilty and still do, but the jury in California did not see it that way.  That is what it comes down to.  Simpson was not guilty no matter what the majority of people thought.  Case closed.

More recently was the Casey Anthony case.  Casey was accused of murdering her daughter.  It seemed like a slam dunk case.  The whole country was shocked when the jury came back with a not guilty verdict on Anthony.  I was stunned when I heard it.  I had followed that trial very closely and from what I had heard and seen, there was no way that she was going to be set free.  I was wrong.  The jury did not see it the same way that most Americans did.

Those are but two examples when the jury came back with a verdict that seemed impossible to even consider as a possibility.  Other cases that catch the national interest have gone the way the majority of people think they should go.  Todd Peterson for example was convicted of murdering his wife.  The famous serial killer trials have all gone they way they were expected to go.  The thing to remember though is that any one of those cases may have gone the opposite way if the jury saw it differently.

I served on a jury during a murder trial once and it was not easy.  In Missouri anytime the prosecution is going to be asking for the death penalty, the jury must be "death qualified".  What this means is that no one who is adamantly against the death penalty can not sit on the jury.  Every person chosen for the jury has to be willing to consider giving the death penalty to the defendant.  We sat for over a week through the trial.  We were sequestered just as the jury in the Zimmerman trial were.  No television, no radio, no talking to anyone that wasn't on the jury, completely cut off from the world and what was going on in order to get as fair of a trial as possible.  We found the defendant guilty of capital murder.  We took our time in coming to this conclusion.  It was not taken lightly as we went back and forth before all of us agreed on the guilty verdict.  Then we had to go through the penalty phase.  Even though this was a "death qualified" jury we could not get an unanimous decision on the penalty.  It was 11-1 for recommending to the judge the death penalty.   The one hold out had a philosophy that putting the defendant in prison for life would be a much worse penalty then death.  Because of this one juror the defendant was given life without parole instead of the death penalty.

That was my experience on being a member of a jury.  After the trial we learned about all kinds of evidence that we did not know about.  The evidence had been kept out by the judge.  In other words, we did not have a whole and complete picture of everything that might effect the outcome of the trial because the system makes sure that only evidence that directly effects the event that was being put on trial was given to the jury.  Meanwhile people who were observing the trial from the public had access to a lot of information that we did not have.  Some of this evidence may have effected what we decided or not.  The point is that the public had a far different view of the crime then the jury had.

It is the way the system works.  None of us in the public were sitting in those chairs on the jury.  We were pounded and fed information constantly over the course of the trial that the jury did not have.  The jury members were there for every minute of testimony while most of the public were not.  I would be willing to bet that a lot of people made up their minds based solely on editorials given by the news agencies rather than listening to the complete testimony.  The testimony the majority of us did hear were but soundbites that the press decided were the important parts discarding the rest of the testimony.

The Zimmerman jury worked with what they had.  I believe they deliberated fully and sincerely.  I believe they took their job very seriously and tried to come up with the proper verdict based on the evidence they had and the testimony they had heard during the course of the trial.  I believe they did what they thought was right.

That is why the system works.  Perhaps the system may make a mistake once in awhile, but I truly believe that the vast majority of the time the system gets it right.  We, the general public, are not in the courtroom non stop during the trial.  We are not sitting there observing witnesses in person and hearing their words in person.  A witness can come across very differently in person to a juror as opposed to watching a sound bite of a witness on television.  The jurors are able to see the evidence first hand and are able to take evidence and look at it closely as they attempt to come to the correct decision.

The jury spoke.  The system works as long as we have faith in the system.  Having faith in the system means that we respect the jury.  It requires that we respect the job the jury was faced with and that we respect the decision that the jury comes up with after due deliberation.

When trials begin to be decided by public opinion, then the system breaks and ceases to be.  There is a process set in place to allow those who feel they are innocent of breaking the laws they were convicted of.  It is the appeal process.  The system also requires that the state bringing charges prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.  If they do not accomplish this, then they did not do their job and it is the duty of the jury to acquit.  That is what this jury did.  They weighed the evidence and decided that the prosecution had not presented enough evidence to put Zimmerman away for up to thirty years or life.

The system worked.  To keep it working the decision of the jury must be respected whether it be George Zimmerman, O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, Jeffery Dahmer, Todd Peterson, Susan Smith or any other number of defendants who were either found guilty or innocent by the best system in the world.  We must continue believing in the system the way it is.  It is by far the best in the world..

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