Thursday, July 7, 2011

The right to trial in open court

There are some issues in the news that I have avoided. The Casey Anthony trial was one of those issues.  This post is actually not about Casey Anthony.  It is about the right to be faced by your accusers and the media in court cases.

The trial of Casey Anthony has been in everyone’s face for a couple of months now.  Talking heads are interviewed on cable news stations about the trial every day.  Voiceovers on videos that show Anthony laughing during a night out on the town talk about the trial.  Others talk about the trial while actual court room footage show Anthony crying when things weren’t going her way.

The media had us all believing she was guilty before the jury had a chance to deliberate on the evidence.  We thought we saw all the evidence we needed.  We heard the sound bites of the prosecutor asking questions and the answers his witnesses gave.  She was going to the chair for sure. 

The shock that we all felt and the shock we witnessed from our co-workers, friends, family as well as the strangers we watched on the television as the verdict was read was just re-enforcement that we were right – every body thought she was guilty.  She should have gotten the chair.

Yet, the jury came back quickly with their opinion.  Anthony was found not guilty on the most serious of the charges against her, including murder.  What could explain such a verdict when watching from afar, through the media, we could all clearly see she was guilty?

We weren’t there and the jury was.

That is not to say that Anthony didn’t kill her daughter, Casey.  She may have or at least had some involvement in the cover up.  But, the jury returned a verdict not based on what we saw in the media, but what they saw – and didn’t see – in the court room. 

We have a system that asks everyday people to come forward and listen to the evidence, presented in an adversarial way, in person.  Each side in the case makes their arguments about the guilt or innocence of the accused.  Evidence is presented directly to the jury in person.  The jury in this case heard all of it, not just the sound bites that the media presented.  They listened to the judge when he gave instructions about the law and the crime.  In the end, the jury made a decision that could have only been made by being there.

Our system of government is based on real people making decisions about real crimes and the real people that stand accused.  Today, we might be unsure about the system – it does get things wrong occasionally, both ways.  But, if you are ever accused of a crime and the media has you in the chair before the trial starts, it may comfort you to know that you still have the chance to stand in front of real people, face to face and tell your side of the story.

To face your accuser and be to be judged by a jury that are people just like you, are rights we should all cherish.  There is at least one person right now, guilty or not, that does appreciate those rights.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Declaration of Independence declared all people are equal

Today is Independence Day in America. It is the day that we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. With that act, the colonist declared our separation from England and their intention to form a new government. The colonists were not being treated as equals by the English and felt that they should. Since they weren’t, they wanted to create a government that respected everyone’s rights.

But, let’s not fool ourselves. The phrase in the Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal” refers to white men over the age of 21. Woman didn’t have the same rights as men. Any rights or obligations that children had were those that were granted by their fathers. Native American men at the time were considered only close to equal in the eyes of the law… occasionally. Then, of course, there were the slaves that at the time of the signing of the Declaration were the brute laborers of the colonies, especially in the South. They were less than equal.

But, would anyone today believe that the phrase “All men are created equal” means only white men? While its meaning at the time of the signing is clear from the understanding of history, its intent was to declare that all individuals are equal. So, should we follow the original meaning or the intent?

It is hoped that you would answer that it is the intent that we should follow. That people living in America are created equal and should expect equal treatment. It is a universal belief, because as Abraham Lincoln believed, the language of the Declaration of Independence is deliberately universal.

The Declaration of Independence was only the first step the founders took to create a successful government. There was the Articles of Confederation, but that didn’t work out and nearly destroyed the goal of living as one nation. The Constitution was then created. It has had a very successful run over these 230 plus years. But, it was the Declaration that set the tone at the time. The Constitution created a government that successfully carried out the goals of the Declaration of Independence.

The goal was that all people are created equal. No matter their gender, race, religion, orientation, politics and many other things that are often used to divide us. Instead, all of those factors should be used to define us as Americans.

Let’s get out and celebrate today. Let’s celebrate together for the good of out community.