The Court of Public Opinion

speedy trial PAIt seems as if events are moving far faster than we can process them, and it’s getting worse. This week has been a whirlwind of news reports and high alerts, emotions are running high, and no one is certain where things will end up.

We are collectively becoming more and more prone to rushes to judgements, as we get electronically herded by media ‘reports’ that turn out to be mere speculation. We react with great emotion as we witness horrifying events unfold in real time, hundreds, even thousands of miles away and yet, right before our eyes, as if they happened right down the street.

We alternate between fear, anger, despair and yes, even hope, like an emotional jackhammer, ready to break apart any opposing views–and often the facts that go with them– in order to maintain some sense of normalcy in our daily lives. (There is an actual scientific explanation for this called, “Normalcy Bias”.)

The rapidity with which the media weighs in on any given situation, by definition, precludes there being any real investigation into the facts of that situation, and that results in misinformation and misunderstanding.

facebookjudgesSocial media is ablaze with opinions, ranging from the benign to full blown, bat shit crazy. Frankly, I’m amazed we can even begin to pick jury members anymore. It’s almost as if someone would have to live in a cave to not be at least somewhat opinionated about a criminal case.

And I’m as guilty of rushing to judgement as the next fella. Just this week, when I first heard about the shootings in San Bernadino, CA., my first reaction was to blame white guys with automatic weapons, shouting “‘Merica!”

I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I went on to make a public apology. In the rush to judgement, I got swept up in the rhetoric of TV talking heads and pundits, who upon reflection, were as much pushing their own agendas, intentionally or otherwise, as they were reporting the news.

It was a sobering moment.

It’s important to keep in mind that we have the best legal system in the world here, and we cannot throw out our legal system simply because it’s imperfect, or even worse, cite the erosion of that system by the often well meaning, but ultimately unrealistic, hopes and dreams of a human utopia somewhere off on the horizon. The corruption of the system is not the system as it was designed to be. We can’t allow ourselves to rig the game. That’s the whole point of our system: Innocent until proven guilty.

We certainly must avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

When I hear people vocally praising the dismantling of that system in order to make things seem better, I become nervous. When I hear a government official at the justice department making veiled threats about free speech, I become nervous. When I hear people throw around the word, “Terrorist”, I become really nervous.

In my next blog, I’m going to talk about that word, what it means, who defines those parameters and the chilling effects of applying that word to situations that do not meet the general consensus of what constitutes terrorism, which admittedly has some grey areas that need to be legally defined.

In the meantime, let’s all remember that our entire legal system is built upon the ideal that all men are created equal, and have the right to a fair trial. The presumption of innocence is the very cornerstone of our entire legal system. Let’s not be so quick to act in ways that chip away at that cornerstone until it can no longer support the weight of justice.


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