News Alert: Verdicts Don’t Equal Truth

A couple of weeks ago I caught the tail end of a news report in which the reporter was getting reactions to news that a criminal defendant who had been convicted was seeking a retrial. Both people quoted by the reporter were dismissive of the action, saying something along the lines of, “well, he’s not innocent. A jury found him guilty.”

It bugged me enough to write about it.

scales of justice

In this day and age, why would people automatically assume that juries get verdicts right 100 percent of the time? We’ve sure piled up enough wrongful convictions on some of our most serious crimes. I’d hope by now that people would recognize just because someone is found guilty by a jury, A) It doesn’t always mean they are guilty and B) Even if they are, they have a right to appeal. It doesn’t mean they’ll win, but they have the right.

What really bothers me, though, is that it’s not a two-way argument. What I mean is that we hear so often in this country that people are willing to call someone guilty when a jury finds a person innocent (O.J., anyone?) or there’s a hung jury (Bill Cosby’s first trial).

So much about our adversarial justice system is based on emotions, or rather, the appeal to emotions by prosecutors and defense attorneys, much less the police ahead of them when interviewing witnesses crimes. Despite what we have seen over the past generation via CSI and other police procedural television shows, an extremely small percentage of criminal cases are decided based on forensic evidence.

The predominance in the use of emotions has resulted in two indisputable facts about our justice system.

  1. It is not set up to always discover the truth.
  2. Race rears its head in nearly every aspect of the legal system, often to the detriment of fairness.

The result: The continuing stereotype that people accused of a crime “must be guilty of something.” I hope to live to see a justice system—starting with criminal investigations by police and continuing right through trial—that does a better job of deciphering the truth.






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