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AdLib On July - 10 - 2013

Courtroom

As Americans, we love games. We worship sports, we submerge ourselves in video games, we avidly watch singing and dancing competitions  on tv and have even made cooking into a contest as well (considering the obesity in America, shouldn’t we try to add Eating as an Olympic sport, we’d devour the competition!). In fact, the most watched television shows each year are competitions or games (in 2012, the top three highest rated shows that year were The Superbowl, American Idol and The Voice).

The iPhone and iPad have made it so that people never need to leave their games behind no matter where they go. Most states sponsor lottery games and “games of chance” on the internet is big business.  We have an Indy 500 and a Forbes 500 so whether you drive race cars or are wealthy enough to own a dozen of them, there’s a competition for you!

We love games! We understand games, we like the affirmation of the simple concept of winners and losers and in the end, it is indeed about whether you win or lose, how you play the game is irrelevant (ask any corporation or Wall Street player).

The coverage of the George Zimmerman trial has recently been wallpapered each day across the cable news stations. In watching what one can endure of this inundation (a murder case with overarching racial issues is important but should not absolve “news” stations from covering other important stories), seeing the defense and prosecution lawyers as well as the pundits on the news channels only accentuates that even when it comes to a murder trial, it’s all just another game…one that we apparently find entertaining but not troubling that game playing should determine justice.

Our legal system has become so arcane and complex, with well intentioned rules and protocol intended to shepherd a decision towards the truth. However, just like our politics, it has also become just another game to manipulate and win, not a search for truth and an application of justice.

Many of the accolades that the defense lawyers have received in the Zimmerman case are based on what competitive “players” they are in this trial game and how their ploys and strategies undermine the prosecution of their client.

Perhaps others have seen it but what is constantly missing from the discussions of the lawyers/pundits on cable news is any remark about  ethics, morality or justice having any place in the playing of the legal game. These types may give lip service to justice and Constitutional protections but the core of their commentary is about playing the game and winning.

One would be hard pressed to see a discussion of any depth by the law punditry on the honesty or truth of a strategy or tactic, just how “effective” it may be. What comes across is that they regard truth and justice as secondary, being the winner of the game is what’s primary.

In an ideal American criminal court system, trials would be strictly about a search for truth and justice. It is disappointing that anyone who might claim that is how our system operates today, would be called “naive” but that’s what accepting the bleed of gaming into the legal system has wrought.

Most people know that two basic tenets of our criminal legal system are that people are innocent until proven guilty and that they must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Sensible and important pillars of a great justice system to prevent abuse of power and the proliferation of injustice. The problem is that for defense attorneys, trials are all about establishing doubt…whether that doubt is legitimate or not. Certainly, every defendant deserves the best defense possible but extending that concept to deceiving a jury seems far past the intent of that principle, it’s more of an attempt to exploit the weak points of fairness in a legal structure.

Someone accused of a crime could be in fact innocent or guilty and in order to take away the rights and freedom…and even the life of a citizen, the state should indeed be required to meet a high burden of proof to do so. There are prosecutors who have abused their position, withheld evidence or presented false testimony just to “win” and convict innocent people. It’s likely that innocent people have suffered the death penalty. Placing the most importance on winning instead of justice can come first for either side of the courtroom.

We don’t want to lose these protective aspects of our legal system but the issue that’s now part of the package deal is, doesn’t it undermine the goal of justice and the sense of the people in this country that our legal system really provides justice?

And it’s hardly a level playing field.

Those with money can pay for the top gamers (lawyers) to win their case and even be celebrated for doing so in the face of obvious guilt (“If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit…or if a murderer pretends it doesn’t fit, same thing, okay?”)? Meanwhile, those who don’t have wealth  behind them are more likely to lose when represented by court-appointed attorneys who may have little time or resources to mount the most expansive and “creative” defense for them.

The defense or prosecution may justifiably focus solely on those facts that support their theory as to what truly occurred from their point of view. That’s not game playing, that’s fulfilling their role as a representative for the client or citizens they represent. Since trials have become more game-like though, sliming a victim of a crime, manufacturing doubts that even their client wasn’t alleging, trying to use obscure legal precedents to keep relevant truths from being presented to a jury, etc., have all become accepted as standards of our legal system.

This American phenomenon, this living blob that has engulfed most areas of Americans society was summed up perfectly by Vince Lombardi many years ago, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

We have seen this as the way things are in our democracy as well.

Republicans have been playing their games with politics in DC and in various states at the same time. In North Carolina and Texas, Republican majorities in the state legislatures have moved quickly to de facto end most abortions in their states. The majority of people in Texas and North Carolina wouldn’t support their extreme and anti-Constitutional views so they couldn’t come straight out and say what they were doing or use the normal legislative process to accomplish their oppressive goals…that’s not how you win.

Instead, they brazenly lie about how their anti-abortion bills are about “protecting the health of women”. In North Carolina, they snuck anti-abortion amendments into an anti-Sharia law bill that had already been approved. In Texas, after being thwarted in his first sneaky attempt, Rick Perry has called a second special session to game the system and force an unpopular and extremist religious belief upon all Texans (in this bill, even women who have been raped or are victims of incest would be outlawed from choosing an abortion).

Whether it’s ALEC, the Kochs, the Tea Party, whoever it may be on the right who wants to win at all costs, whoever it is cares more about winning the game than anything or anyone else, the lives of those who aren’t on their team are meaningless and unworthy of their concern. The damage they do to our system or society is irrelevant to them. All that matters is that they win.

The problem with making everything into a game, especially our system of justice and our system of democracy is that those with the most power and resources are more likely to win and those with the least are likely to lose. Justice and democracy are the fabric of our society, there are of course competitive aspects of both but those aspects are not what social compacts are about.

If corrupted and degraded into nothing more than games, our legal system and our political system lose their true purposes and no matter who wins in the future, it is our society that ultimately loses.

 

Written by AdLib

My motto is, "It is better to have blogged and lost hours of your day, than never to have blogged at all."

13 Responses so far.

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  1. Kalima says:

    Great article AdLib.

    I really don’t like to watch murder trials on the tv as I feel it’s somehow diminishes the victim and the gravity of the crime. The O.J. trial was a jaw dropper for me, it felt as if I was watching a “Law and Order” series. The judge was appalling, it was as if he was auditioning for a role.

    I haven’t seen much of the Zimmerman trial over here, but I’ve read a lot about it on the internet. What people and most of the media seem to forget are the facts. Zimmerman stalked an unarmed 17 year old kid because he thought he had no business being where he was. Did he ask him what he was doing there before he shot him? I doubt it, and after he was told by police not to pursue, he did so anyway. The kid was black and wearing a “Hoodie” (in the rain) and we all know that means he is up to no good. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.

    He followed Trayvon who must have been alarmed to have him stalking, and tried to defend himself. For that, Zimmerman gunned him down in cold blood at close range. If he is not found guilty there is something very wrong with the justice system with people who can’t follow the facts as they were presented. I found it appalling that the defense wanted to bring in totally unrelated texting, just how low can they go. It was racially biased when the media made fun of the friend of Trayvon who was on the phone with him that night. People with a crowd mentality have no shame.

    —-

    “Rachel Jeantel proves that this July 4th, Jim Crow lives”

    The treatment of a prosecution witness in the George Zimmerman murder trial and the reasoning of the US Supreme Court in striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act make clear that America has a race problem.

    http://wapo.st/12412dh

    —-

    Today I posted a story about Berlusconi and the protests against the Supreme Court in Italy wanting to make sure that he could not get out of jail time. The man is rich. The man is also a slimy corrupted criminal with ties to the Italian mafia. If he gets off then I’m sure that somewhere, somehow, money exchanged hands to make sure he doesn’t go to jail, and I find that disgraceful.

    In a just world rich criminals would be lining up in orange jumpsuits. War criminals would be facing trial at the ICC in the Hague. Bankers would be made to return the money they stole, and there would be an example of justice for us to look up to. As long as governments don’t force those responsible to pay their dues, and a man can be jailed for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, there is no justice. As long as there are lawyers just motivated by money, justice as we once knew it, will be just be something we all long for but can never fully obtain. What can we do about it? Keep trying to elect the people who will stand with us, and rid our governments of those who oppose what is right. It’s not just an American problem, it spans every corner of our world, and I still very much believe in people power, and one step at a time.

    • AdLib says:

      Hey Kalima, I too am not crazy about these circus trials but I recognize how addictive they can be. The OJ case was the model for the modern media trial and its results taught us to have limited expectations when it comes to those with expensive defenses being held responsible for their actions.

      It seems pretty obvious that Zimmerman was the aggressor from the beginning and had bad intent towards Trayvon who was just walking home from the store with an iced tea and Skittles. There are no facts that dispute this but the defense attorneys just throw grit into the eyes of the jury and hope it sticks. I do think it is more likely that he would be found guilty of manslaughter instead of 2nd Degree murder, which seems to be what this really is but after OJ, Casey Anthony, etc.,I am prepared too for the jury to fully acquit this murderer.

      I do believe in justice so thou I don’t think a case like this should be so dominant in the MSM and the exploitation of a murder for higher revenues is a bit sick, any time people can see that sometimes justice prevails, it’s a good thing.

      Indeed, my big complaint about all of this is how money can buy an acquittal and a better chance at escaping justice for the guilty. As long as we have such a two-tiered system of justice, our justice system is flawed.

  2. kesmarn says:

    AdLib, this is such a wonderful paragraph:

    Whether it’s ALEC, the Kochs, the Tea Party, whoever it may be on the right who wants to win at all costs, whoever it is cares more about winning the game than anything or anyone else, the lives of those who aren’t on their team are meaningless and unworthy of their concern. The damage they do to our system or society is irrelevant to them. All that matters is that they win.

    One of the things that just sends chills down my spine is when I hear someone defending this immoral behavior by saying: “Everything we (or they) did was legal.” And — sadly — this is often the case.

    ALEC hasn’t actually broken any laws that we know of. All the tactics that Zimmerman’s defense attorneys are employing are “legal.” The Kochs have armies of lawyers whose job includes making sure that they are never indicted for anything. John Yoo helped to make sure that even torture itself was “legal” during Dubya’s administration. And Wall Street financial wizards said the same thing about all the shady activities they indulged in that led to the financial collapse of 2008. “It was all legal.”

    What all these bad actors are tacitly declaring is that they actually have no ethics whatsoever. In effect, they say to the world: “If you don’t take extreme measures to stop us, we’re going to do absolutely as we please. Because we ourselves have no brakes. There’s nothing we won’t do to win, and that includes rolling right over you and your family and your alleged ‘rights.’ Stop us if you can. But remember we own the legal system, too.”

    In other words, the attitude of the sociopath is becoming closer and closer to being mainstream in some strata of society. I know I’m stating the obvious here, but we really do need to turn this around.

    • AdLib says:

      Kes, hope you don’t mind me returning the compliment but this section of your comment just nails it:

      …the attitude of the sociopath is becoming closer and closer to being mainstream in some strata of society.

      This is sobering. The Baggers have made sociopathy mainstream as well.

      It is the case that sociopaths will always try to find ways around laws and systems set up to benefit society. Just because they concoct ways to weave themselves (like the reptiles they are) around rules and laws to accomplish their destructive agendas, which directly conflict with the intent of society and its laws, it’s not okay.

      We do need to start turning things around, principles, ethics and the welfare of the many are values that need to be more central to Americans and their society than the simplicity and destruction of “winning”.

    • choicelady says:

      As one who has waded through volumes of handwritten legal cases from the 17th-early 19th century, I’d say we’re actually no different from what we’d been. The Common Law is highly convoluted. However, resting on precedent, it is THE system that lets us settle differences largely without revolution, with appeal to justice not just in the formal sense but as in the sense of ‘seeing right done’ and with a serious eye on basic human rights as the chief concern of our system.

      What has happened over the 20th century (with roots in the 19th) is the rise of more and more legislation rather than appeal to those precedents. That’s where the real harm starts -- legislative directives that remove our ability to appeal to ‘common and customary’ laws. Here is where the power of money and status do prevail. This outcome resembles far too often the rigidity of the Roman Code that then demands legislative rather than court appeal to do or undo. And therein lies frustration when the electorate does not vote wisely.

      I am not at all sure what verdict will be returned in the Zimmerman case, but what he did seems, based on evidence, NOT to have been ‘stand your ground’ at all. We do need to be able to say that what got done was legal, but what he did seems inconsistent with that law as bad as it is. I have hope that the jury will find him guilty because stalking someone kind of removes the right to feel threatened. At ALL. It’s inconsistent with both common law AND with the statute itself.

      But even bad laws in a democracy are better than none. The NSA court decisions(common law as much as anything) and Congressional reviews vastly improved the mandate to follow our Constitution and the process we have treasured over the centuries. Warrants, review, guaranteed rights all were secured by the law both as case law and statute and both appealing to our Common Law heritage embedded in the Bill of Rights.

      I’m not as pessimistic when courts do intervene -- not that they are perfect -- but I do want legislation to slow down. That call by the Tea Party to read the section of the Constitution that underpinned whatever bills they introduced? EXCELLENT. The REAL problem is that lasted about two days -- they are not following the Constitution because -- voila! -- it turns out it doesn’t say what they wanted it to say. So they stopped. THAT is the real problem. If we did that, if we appealed to the Constitution seriously, in every piece of legislation, we’d have a very different outcome.

      So the courts are what backs up the Constitution when the fools, knaves, and mountebanks take over and ride roughshod over our basic rights. And I hope -- HOPE -- that the jury in the Zimmerman trial will be given serious charge by the judge who will remind them that laws aren’t just what we WISH they were -- they are what they really say. And their finding of facts should give a decent outcome for the Martin family and everyone who has been appalled by this case.

      Let’s hope the jury seriously wants right done. We will see.

      • AdLib says:

        Hey CL!

        Of course no one is advocating doing away with courts or our judicial system.

        Though our legal system is not greatly dissimilar to how it was in previous eras, it has developed some profound issues.

        Begin with our top court, The SCOTUS. They throw out legal precedent like used paper towels, base opinions on their religious beliefs and declare programs that prevent discrimination unnecessary because they work. Something is terribly wrong there. Lifetime appointments may have made sense in the 1700s because folks back then didn’t live so long and public service was not seen as something you do until your drooling and senile (Scalia, get a hint!). So, here’s a change I think we need here, 10 year appointments for SCOTUS judges instead of lifetime.

        The FISA court, 10 of 11 hand picked Repubs by John Roberts, operating behind a cloak of secrecy, approving every application for spying they’ve received and setting US law is hardly the judicial system The Founders envisioned.

        With the media we have nowadays, there have been more problems that have arisen. For example, two of the defense witnesses in the Zimmerman case volunteered to testify…two people who had no direct connection to the case…to get publicity for their businesses and made up all kinds of obvious BS to serve the defense attorneys. Should such frauds continue to be able to influence trials out of personal interest?

        As time goes by and things change, every institution should continue to evolve and self-correct. I do think this spectacle of defendants with hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend, getting the trials they pay for and the poor having much worse prospects is inequitable and needs to change.

        • choicelady says:

          I read something last week (forgot to save it and can’t recall where) that the FISA court revolves annually having new members that are set by some formula but not by Roberts. I will try to unearth that because I know very little about WHO is on the courts, but I do understand they did exist before 2001 and are not the product of the Patriot Act. FISA warrants were obtained by the FBI and various police jurisdictions to do the ‘sneak and peek’ reading of the computer interactions between anti-choice zealots in the US and James Kopp, the fugitive who fled to Ireland then France after murdering Barnett Slepian, the abortion provider in Buffalo, NY.

          While Kopp was abroad, the interactions required FISC intervention and proof to the justices that such a warrant was essential. It took the police weeks and substantial revelations of compelling evidence to get the warrant that led to a major break in the case on Kopp’s location where he was arrested. They did not take entering a suspect’s home lightly at all. This occurred PRE 9/11, and such court intervention has proven time and again to be highly demanding and exacting. The corruption that occurred AFTER 9/11 was the Bush administration’s refusal to bother with warrants or FISC at all. Courts and later Congressional action ended those abuses.

          I think we all need to learn a ton more about the court system, good, bad, ugly. I do think the SCOTUS decisions have been a very mixed bag over the past decade plus, but that variability means that it becomes more and more critical to have a good president who appoints good justices who actually understand the LAW.

  3. Nirek says:

    Adlib, I agree that justice is not the main intent of the courts like it should be. The lawyers seem to want to hear themselves talk. They don’t seem to the truth as they mislead and narrow their questions to make their point.

    It is hard to believe that anyone is found guilty any more. George will probably get off. I believe he stalked the Martin boy and when confronted the kid fought back , got the best of him , and George shot him point blank.

    • AdLib says:

      Nirek, the state of our justice system is discouraging. How often does a defendant spending hundreds of thousands on a defense lose? Zimmerman could still be convicted but the system is tilted towards his being able to buy an escape from the consequences of his actions.

      It does seem like a surprise when someone responsible for something terrible pays a price for it.

      Remember how this case started? The police wouldn’t even arrest Zimmerman, after all, who wouldn’t have the right to shoot young black men they stalk?

  4. MurphTheSurf3 says:

    Ad Lib…thoughtful piece. I will respond further a bit later but I do want to note that among the casualties of the ZImmerman trial coverage is that it shoved other stories of far greater scope from the front pages on line, and in print and on the airwaves. Egypt, the VRA, corruption in the Va governor’s mansion, immigration, the jobs picture and so much more. Both sides are using the trial as distraction and it is more than annoying. MSNBC coverage is clearly about ratings.

    • AdLib says:

      Hey Murph, you mentioned many of the big stories that have been neglected because the game mentality has also corrupted what passes for news channels today.

      With the news, it’s now all about winning The Ratings Game. Journalism also used to be seen as a public service, something the public was entitled to in this American democracy. News divisions were never seen as profit centers before the corporate takeover of the media, often they would lose money but that was seen as the price networks paid for getting the public trust…and license of the airwaves.

      So of course, since their primary concern is The Ratings Game and not responsibly informing the public, we get maybe 20 hours of Zimmerman Trial coverage each day and profound stories are crumpled up and tossed in the garbage.

      Some things are too serious to be reduced to games. We’ve lost the integrity of many of our public institutions this way, I do think we need to have a conversation as a society about many things, including the concept that not everything should be about finding loopholes to “legitimately” get around the intent of a system that exists to serve the public.

    • The wealthy in America most definitely have the legal advantage over the poor and middle class. I have heard more than once, that there are two justice systems in America, one for the wealthy and one for the poor.

      There is another aspect of our legal system that really bugs me is how long and drawn out these high profile criminal cases are. It really bugs me when a mass murderer, who has been seen by several people during the commission of his crimes, his trial is dragged on and on and feeds the media just what they want. Jared Loughner is a good example, and so is James Holmes and the guy who killed so many at Fort Hood a few years back. I realize that our laws explicitly say that people are innocent until proven guilty, but several eye witness testimonies are not enough proof of guilt?

      • AdLib says:

        KT, no question that the wealthy and powerful are given special and privileged treatment by our justice system. How many of the wealthy on Wall Street are in jail for committing fraud and robbing trillions from the global economy and the savings, jobs and homes of millions of Americans? People who protested against these criminals in Occupy Wall Street spent more time in jail than the wealthy thieves.

        Pharma corporations are protected from being sued even if their product kills millions. Energy corporations have immunity too and even when there’s a conviction, they’re usually allowed to just pay a fine instead of anyone who committed the crime, going to jail.

        Compare that with someone on trial for drug possession, how often is someone who’s been convicted given the option to just pay a fine instead of going to jail?

        In fact, there is am admission by The Obama Admin that execs at the wealthiest companies are Too Big To Sue.

        And don’t get me started on how so many criminals in the Bush Admin got away with their crimes with no prosecution even imagined for them.

        And of course, those who can afford to spend hundreds of thousands on their trial are almost guaranteed a win while people who are poor have every reason to fear conviction.

        It is a tough issue to figure out. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev just pleaded not guilty in his trial. There are dozens of police officers who can testify he shot at them and his brother threw bombs at them yet he claims innocence? It is frustrating, yet to prevent innocent people from being railroaded into a wrongful conviction, all defendants need to have the right to plead not guilty, even those so plainly guilty.

        Prosecutors do offer plea deals in some cases, if a defendant changes their plea to guilty, the sentence is not as severe. Don’t know what else could be done in that area. Perhaps there could be new rules about lawyer conduct, not to inhibit them in any way in a genuine defense of their clients but to restrain the cynical fabrications and spitballing of accusations and unfounded theories that have no grounding in the case.

        They did establish victim protection rules to rein in the abusiveness of defense lawyers who would make their cases about destroying the character of the victim. I think more rules like that which refocus trials on seeking the truths would help.

        And a bigger sanction on defendants who plead not guilty when there is indisputable evidence against them, as with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, might help too (maybe the death penalty can only be applied when one pleads not guilty and is convicted of a capital crime?).


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