Monday, January 02, 2012

Jumping to a guilty conclusion

I am making a list of things that I learned in 2011. One is that no one believes in innocence until proven guilty. Between people I know, people on TV, etc, I have yet to meet a single person who believes it. Every single one of them jumps to conclusions that people are guilty based on the flimsiest of evidence.

Herman Cain. I had an otherwise sensible woman tell me that Cain must be guilty of sexual harassment because she was once sexually harassed. She insisted that I listen to her story, even tho it had nothing to do with Cain's story. I have heard other women make a similar argument many times. If sexual harassment stories are common, then it is easy for a woman to make a false accusation.

Jerry Sandusky. Many people said that they decided that he was guilty based on the weakness of his denial in a TV interview. But criminal defendants have a 5A right not to testify at trial, and one of the reasons for that right is people think that they can judge guilt or innocence by watching a denial, but they cannot.

Penn State officials. They have been fired and ostracized, and yet the case against them rest entirely on one accuser who has told an implausible story and who has changed his story a couple of times. Of course there will soon be lawyers filing million dollar lawsuits, and you can be sure that new witnesses come forward with mysteriously recovered memories.

Rod Blagojevich. He was convicted of selling Barack Obama's senate seat, but no one ever showed that he ever took a bribe, asked for a bribe, or had any suspicious money squirreled away.

Barry Bonds. People argue that he is guilty of something based on the size of his head and other strange notions. He was convicted and sentenced, but hardly anyone knows what he was convicted of. And the prosecutor sure did not present evidence of his head size.

Michael Jackson. The accusations were implausible, and from people suing for millions. He was acquitted.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The accusations were extremely implausible, and the charges were eventually dropped.

Of course there are many people in the criminal justice system who are unfairly prosecuted, but that is not my point. My concern is about how people jump to conclusions of guilt even tho the accusation is bizarre and improbable, the evidence is flimsy, and sometimes even the crime itself is undefined.

I should have learned this lesson during the 1974 Watergate hearings. Yes, some crimes were committed, but hardly anyone can tell you what Richard Nixon did that was criminal. Somehow they all decided that he was guilty without even knowing the charge or how the evidence relates to that charge. I think that this is a common brain defect that people come to such conclusions.

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