Monday, June 13, 2005

Alger Hiss, Michael Jackson, and Criminal Justice

Alger Hiss believed in the criminal justice system. Rather, he believed in the system of justice in the United States of America as set forth in the Constitution. I know this--because 22 years after he was convicted on two counts of perjury on trumped up charges by the government in a case spearheaded by then-congressman Nixon to discredit high-ranking democrats in the Truman administration as being so left-wing oriented that they would sell out to the Russians—I asked him how he felt about the American system of justice. He answered plainly that it “usually worked.”

Despite the outcome of his trials--the first which ended in a hung jury and the second which ended convicting him and sending him to jail for four years—Hiss was adamant, from his legal training (he was clerk to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes), and in practice through the years, that trial by a jury of one’s peers was the finest way to approach justice in any society.

In Hiss’s case, he claimed evidence was constructed by the prosecution and FBI—forgery by typewriter—to show that he had actually copied documents in order to give them to a courier who would then send them on to Russia in an effort somehow to bolster that country’s pre-WWII efforts against Nazi Germany. So he couldn’t fight that aspect of forgery in court. Presumption of innocence got thrown out the window because the newspapers said they had the goods on Hiss in hand, and that was good enough for their readers.

Hiss wrote about his case in the famous book In the Court of Public Opinion, in which he describes being convicted in the press and media long before his trials ever came up. But still, in a regular, non-“celebrity” case, Hiss assured me that the justice system would prevail in getting at the truth! I wasn’t about to question the passionate certainty of an ex-con in this matter.

Trial by jury, presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the legal necessity to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” may ultimately free some criminals, while incarcerating some innocent people as well. All in all, the system of English jurisprudence developed in the middle ages, and practiced through down to today in this country, tends to lean toward allowing innocent subjects to go free, moreso than letting society’s misfits and abject bad guys get off easily. Otherwise, we’d invent a better system after 1,000 plus years of this one.

Michael Jackson was acquitted today, by a jury of his peers, of ten counts and sub-counts of misdemeanors and felony behavior having to do with cavorting with children in a manner of pederasty, one of the most agreed upon abhorrent acts in our civilization. The interviews with actual members of the jury panel provide the amazing insight, after all these months, that in fact the mother of the main accuser might have been obnoxious in her testimony; and there was no “smoking gun” to provide jurors the satisfying sigh to say “Oh, THAT’S what happened—let’s convict the bastard.”

If anything is true, it’s that these jurors diligently followed their instructions from the judge, and closely examined the evidence, whether or not wholly corroborated, in order to decide if Michael Jackson was “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” Well folks, that’s a tough one to prove without something beyond a boy’s statement and a mother’s outrage. You really need a video, or a confession, or whatever it takes when you’re going to convict the biggest pop star of the 1970’s and 80’s. And you need a sympathetic victim, not some kid of whom every parent in America, including me, says “what parent would knowingly let his or her child sleep in a strange adult’s bed?” If I’m on that jury, and I think there’s an inkling of a doubt, I vote to acquit. That didn’t mean I found Michael Jackson innocent—just “not guilty.” I could think he “might have or possibly could have” committed the acts, but I’m not SURE beyond a reasonable doubt. So Michael goes back to Neverland, and I can still sleep at night—if I’m one of the jurors.

But I’m out here in “reality-land,” and there are enough real pederasts out here, and they are sick and need help, and so do our kids need protection—let’s get onto the important issues here and do what we need to do--and let’s put the Michael Jackson case where it belongs once and for all—behind us.

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