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.

 

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Kalima
Admin

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.

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kesmarn
Admin

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.

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choicelady
Member

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.

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Nirek
Member

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.

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MurphTheSurf3
Editor

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.

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KillgoreTrout
Member

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?

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