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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Courtrooms and the Truth

To me, though not to most others, when you consider what the contending parties push for, it seems odd and even laughable that when one is asked to testify in a trial, first he is required to swear that while on the stand he will always speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  And he must absolutely keep to this oath, lest he be accused later and convicted of committing that great crime of perjury.  Witnesses are taken through that even though it must've been obvious ever since trials first came into use that they are not about arriving at the truth of the matter.  Instead they're about selling juries -- or whoever has the power of forming the verdict -- on the theories of the contending parties.  And what's worse, attorneys and judges insist on holding witnesses' feet close to the fire, though they may consider themselves to be in no way under the same constraints.

In a courtroom, so distant in time, location, and intentions from the incident under discussion, there can be no hope of ever finding out for sure what really happened anyway, unless somehow the whole thing was irrefutably recorded beforehand by some modern technology.  And in those settings, few if any -- whether participants or spectators -- ever think of how, quite often, the only person in the courtroom that has any shot at being in full possession of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is not at all one of the high-flying attorneys, the even higher-flying judge, a witness, or even one of the arresting cops waiting outside to put in his two cents.   Instead it's the person sitting with all appropriate humility in the defendant's chair.  Yet seldom is that person asked to testify.  

Aside from the fears of what might then be revealed about a client that the defense counsel has come to know all too well, the reasons for this avoidance  probably center around recognition of another inconvenient fact about trials and getting at the truth: there's no way to know how much the defendant might color his version of things in such a way as to support his plea of Not Guilty.  And that in turn is linked to the certainty that even if the defendant and all the witnesses called themselves being truthful to a fault, not much time has to pass before their own biases and their views of how things ought to be permanently distort their versions of how things really transpired.

So what happens is that, no matter how much it is set up to look like an exhaustive search for the truth, the trial instead actually becomes an elaborate ballet dance or a gymnastic competition, orchestrated with numerous moves consisting of arcane precedents protected by the dust of thousands of law libraries filled with tomes of the most deadly kind of reading.   And the lawyers and the judges do their well-practiced pirouettes, leaps, and flips while always watching to see which way their performances are swaying the ultimate judges -- the juries -- even if at the start those groups have been carefully selected by them, the performers.

Still there are times when injecting the defendant into the exercise might have its uses.   There might be something about the person that might make a good impression, even through the appearance of having been totally crushed by a prosecutor's intimidations.  And I would also think that, by being the most important person in the courtroom, the defendant would have collected the largest amount of gazes by far, throughout the proceedings, as everyone wondered what could be revealed there, if only probes of some kind could be inserted into his head.  Generally the audience, if not all of the contending advocates, would like to hear from him, no matter what.

But in the recently concluded Sanford, Florida trial, as in so many others, the star of the show was carefully kept off the stage.

Near the end of the testimony the judge did try hard to break that pattern, or at least seemed to, by ordering G. Zimmerman, the defendant, to take the stand.   But she was savagely rebuffed by the main defense attorney.

Despite the many thoughtless views that it was an option, a possibility, there was never the slightest chance that George Zimmerman would testify, and the judge backed down.   So the one person who was the closest by far to being in a position to know, and hopefully relate, exactly what happened that rainy night that left a teenager named Trayvon Martin lying shot dead on a sidewalk in Sanford was spared from being revealed, through his testimony, as being the mush-brained person that he so clearly is.

"--What?  Him, George Zimmerman, testify?   Not on your life, and certainly not on Trayvon Martin's life!"

It turned out that Zimmerman wasn't the only one that got away with murder during that trial.   So did that defense attorney, when somehow he escaped being punished severely for what appeared to be highly blatant contempt of court in vetoing the judge's order.  And so also did more than one of the defense witnesses in that badly off-kilter trial, when, after having contributed several thousand dollars each to Zimmerman's cause, they then were allowed to testify, too, as if to protect their "investment," in the course of which they said things that had all the appearance of touching on perjury for sure.

Despite all that Zimmerman and no one else had so clearly contributed to making that night the last one that Trayvon Martin would ever see, Zimmerman soon enough was let off scot-free, with many good wishes for the future heaped on him by the usual scoundrels of our society. 

Meanwhile no justice whatsoever was rendered to the murdered child, Trayvon Martin -- except in the clearest parts of the Public Eye.


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