"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Punishment for Michael Jackson

Jay Homnick has an interesting angle on the Michael Jackson case, in today's edition of The American Spectator Online. Jay observes that the very act of bringing a person to trial can be an instrument of punishment for a criminal who happens to be highly difficult to convict:

"Naturally we ask ourselves: Was [the Jackson trial] a waste? Did the Prosecutor, Mr. Sneddon, just dump a big load of taxpayer money down the drain?

"The answer strikes me as simple. It was well worth the expense. The situation is somewhat akin to the position of the police officer who knows that a certain fellow is definitely a criminal, although evidence is hard to come by. He can be excused for rousting and harassing and following this man, making it difficult for him to ply his illicit craft. As long as this power is not abused by stalking innocent citizens, we are comfortable with the use of intimidation as an instrument of policing.

"In much the same way, a prosecutor can arrive at a point where the guilt of a particular party is obvious. Sometimes he sits in his office and sees a traumatized rape victim fall to pieces at the merest mention of her attacker. He knows that he cannot subject this person to the ordeal of testifying. Whatever self-possession she clings to will be shattered by facing a sneering defense lawyer and seeing the man who hurt her simpering in his Sunday suit just a few feet away.

"That prosecutor is not without recourse. He has some weaker witnesses, some carpet fibers, some partial fingerprints, some fuzzy video. This is enough to take this rapist off the street for two years awaiting trial, put him through his paces and, if the man has a few dollars, make sure they end up papering the deck of some lawyer's yacht."

Thus, Homnick concludes, Michael Jackson's punishment for the transgressions Homnick believes the pop music star committed was accomplished by the trial itself, with the public humiliation and associated financial expense for the defendant. It appears to me that Jay is correct if we believe that Michael Jackson is indeed guilty of the crime for which he was indicted and tried, or similar ones of which it would have been impossible to convict him in a fair trial. In addition, to prosecute Michael Jackson in this instance was certainly within the letter and spirit of the law, or the judge would never have let it come to trial. Viewed from that angle, at least some little measure of justice for Jackson's purported victims was indeed achieved, as Jay says.

It is definitely an interesting argument, and one that has a certain elegance to it in a society where, for the wealthy at least, constitutional protections against reckless prosecution are highly effective. For most Americans, however, the notion that government prosecutors could destroy an individual citizen socially, financially, and psychologically without convicting that person of a crime is a chilling thought indeed. And it is most unfortunately true.

2 comments:

James Elliott said...

I'm glad you qualified yourself at the end there, Mr. Karnick, because your concern about the implications of such a line of thinking for the powerless in society is right on the money. The absolutist mentality contained within Mr. Hominick's piece is rather frightening. There is a reason why we have a jury system. Mr. Jackson did not "get off" because of a technicality or because some crucial piece of evidence was improperly obtained or withheld. A jury of his peers decided that the state had not met the burden of proof.

The "guilty is guilty" mentality within Mr. Hominick's piece, no matter how well-written, is a slippery-slope argument that justifies actions based on what we "know" to be true. This is a dangerous proposition, which opens the door to all kinds of abuses.

S. T. Karnick said...

I agree completely. My entire post was meant to lead up to the conclusion.