Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Second Criminal Standard of Proof: You're Guilty

From WCBS in New York City, May 21, 2009: 

"Four men due in court Thursday to face charges of plotting to bomb Jewish sites and shoot down military planes were arrested after planting what they thought were explosive devices near a synagogue and community center, authorities say.  The suspects were arrested shortly after planting a mock explosive device in the trunk of a car outside the Riverdale Temple and two mock bombs in the backseat of a car outside the Jewish Center, authorities said. Police blocked their escape with an 18-wheel truck, smashing their tinted SUV windows and while apprehending the unarmed suspects."

As I was reading this, it struck me. Why did they wait so long? I had to hearken back to my first year Criminal Law class at law school. Prosecutors are burdened with proving guilt "beyond a REASONABLE doubt" in criminal litigation. What does this mysterious phrase mean? (The definition of "reasonble" has been the Gordian Knot of common law jurisprudence. It remains so today.) Well, it means that if even one juror is left hesitating as to whether the suspect committed the crime, the suspect goes free. The prosecutor has not met his burden. If you've never been on a criminal jury, you may be somewhat perplexed. Our criminal justice presumes ALL suspects are just that, only suspects.  You are presumed innocent until proven guilty by your peers. This is a sacrosanct underpinning of American jurisprudence.

Back to my point. The FBI and the prosecutors had to wait until the terrorists' hands were in the cookie jar because they knew they would need as much evidence possibly obtainable in order to surmount the high burden of proof in court. Here's my problem with this scenario.  I think we can safely assume that investigators and prosecutors have amassed a shit-ton of evidence clearly showing that these 4 terrorists are guilty. The investigation began back in mid-2008, and they were busted while carrying out their plot. How much more evidence do you need? It's like the burglar of a convenience store who stares into the camera, burgles the store, gets caught, and pleads not guilty. I suspect that these 4 terrorists will get top notch legal representation and will plead not guilty. Millions of taxpayer money will be expended proving a fact. That's the problem folks.

I appreciate our fundamental right to legal representation in criminal trials. Everyone appreciates how John Adams bravely took up the legal representation of the British redcoats responsible for the Boston Massacre. He was lambasted and called a traitor.  The redcoast (kids really), believe it or not, were provoked first. They were terrified of their lives in the face of an angry mob. Here, however, what possibly could be the terrorists' defense?  The prosecutors could use the insanity card - the terrorists were insane and thus did not have the requisite intent necessary to be found guilty of a crime. Again, the meticulousness of the plot will surely destroy that argument if it's ever made. 

Here's my suggestion. Create a second criminal standard: proof beyond ANY doubt. In other words, we're 100% sure you're guilty. This alternative standard will be available for those rare cases where it's absolutely clear to any reasonable person that the "suspect" is guilty.  For instance, if you catch the suspect in the act. Or if the suspect is caught on video. Or DNA evidence. This standard would save millions of dollars a year in mindless representation of those who are clearly, beyond any doubt, guilty. (My assumption here is of course that the jurors will be unanimous in their guilty verdict.) It would lead to a more efficient and orderly judicial system. In turn, it would enhance the constitutional right of access to courts. And as importantly, it would give the over-worked and under-paid federal district court judges a much needed respite from frivolous criminal cases.  

At your service,
American Confucius


SouthernHeart said...

Hi A.C.,
This is a test to see if my comments will post. Had an error last time.

SouthernHeart said...

Your suggestion has one flaw, you used the term " reasonable people". As long as Groups like the ACLU are willing to DEFEND anybody trying to DESTROY our way of life and they will ATTACK anybody trying to PROTECT our way of life we can not expect things to change.
if you research the Fabian Society, the CFR, Tri-latteral commission, the Bilderburger group and other "think tank" group, you will see a pattern of names and organizations that influnce governments and in doing so, our lives. While some will try to dismiss this kind of talk as foolishness, the pattern speaks for itself. We are only pawns on a world chessboard because more people are concerned with what is on television than what goes on in their own government. I hate to say it but prepare yourselves for slavery, we are lambs being lead to slaughter.

American Confucius said...

SouthernHeart: welcome to RF and thanks for stopping by and commenting. Your points are well taken. In fact, you've inspired my next post. Ive been hearing much grumbling lately about the Bilderberg group in particular.

But, back to your comment, I'm not as fatalistic as you seem to be. Yes, we're going through unprecedented times, but in our, albeit, short life as a nation, we've surmounted one hurdle after another. And historically speaking, each generation that lived through each hurdle probably had their shares of fatalists.

Not to denigrate your position, as it is completely reasonable. But I seem to be a bit more optimistic.

SouthernHeart said...

Sorry A.C., I just call them as I see them. I have been watching all of this come together for over 30 years. Most people would`nt listen then, and they are not listening still. My wife and I were the ones that told you about the Bilderburger group last weekend.
Now you know who I am. I suggest you start with the Fabian Society if you don`t know about them. They formed as a small group of socialists back in the late 1700s to slowly establish influence in all areas of society. Their symbol was the turtle, slow and steady progress. All of the other groups are just an extention of their philosophy. These groups have learned to pit nation against nation and people against people for fun and profit. I also suggest you read a modern english study of the book of Revelation. I know it may seem unimportant but it is all happening as it was written nearly 2000 years ago. Maybe that is why I see the end of the world as we know it but I know you see all of these things happening at an excellerating rate as well. When you are setting a trap for something or someone you move slowly as not to alert them to the trap, but when the victim is in place you have to move swiftly to spring the trap while the victim is still unaware. I guess I do sound fatalistic but I do believe we stand a chance because this generation still has strong patriotism in our hearts and we understand our rights and duty. The next generation has been taught that America is the biggest trouble maker in the world and the world could live in peace if only we no longer existed. We have been made to look that way because our leaders HAVE interfered in other nations business when we should not have. I`m sure you can imagine how the world will be without America. We have allowed our government to spend our money to the point that the U.S. dollar will no longer be the world currency which in turn will weaken our ability to defend ourselves and our allies. This, of course, will embolden our enemies even more. Well, you get the picture.Only time will tell, so keep on fighting the good fight, everything we can do to spread the word will help.
God Bless!

American Confucius said...


I think you may have spoken with ethnocentricsemite, my co-author of this blog. Our short profiles are in the right hand column of the blog.

But back to your points, it seems you've been around longer than I have so it's I guess reasonable to think you have a better view of a trend if there is one. But I do consider myself a student of history, and, as I mentioned, it teaches us that Americans are resilient.

But I don't want to sound naive either. I understand there are forces out there with interests athwart to ours. However, like you say, Americans have a profound and solemn respect for laws, human and civil rights, and liberty and freedom, probably moreso than any other country in the world. This gives me optimism and hope.

But I want to ask you something, SouthernHeart. I ask this with no mal-intent. What is your take on the Israel lobby? AIPAC for instance? How do you view their influence, or lack thereof, on our domestic and foreign policies? Do you think they have deleterious effects on our country as a whole? Do you think the "neocons" have made us worse off?

SouthernHeart said...

Sorry A.C.,
I started reading your comments and did`nt even check the bio`s. Now the American Confucius thing makes more sense! Oh well, that`s how we make new friends!
You can ask me anything, I take no offense at questions. I looked up the AIPAC since I really had no idea about them other than knowing of their existence. While I think ALL lobbying should be outlawed because there is no provision in the Constitution for handing out taxpayer money for anything other than the business of the people of this country, I do think Israel should be supported as much as we can help. It seems that the U.S. government holds Israel back from cleaning out the rats nests that surround them. If I were the President of the U.S. I think I would help Israel destroy Hamas once and for all, all the way to Iran. Why are we waiting for all of these hostile countries to get nukes? If there is to be a fight, why wait until your enemy has the advantage? Of course, if you know the story (I`m a Christian)in the Bible when God sent the Israelites into the promised land and told them to destroy ALL of the inhabitants of the land,over time they grew tired of fighting and made peace with the remaining people. Well, those people and lands are the same areas Israel is having trouble with today.
As for neocons, I don`t really know what people mean by that term. Terms and meanings have been intentionally altered to keep people confused (another part of the socalists plan). I don`t trust the republicans or the democrats parties and very few people assocated with them.
I`m sorry A.C., I did`nt mean to go off on a tangent. Back to your original storyline, I think we accept crime as normal in our society because we are told it is normal to have crime. Nonesense! We have crime because our socalled leaders are untouched by it. It only happens to us little people and they really don`t care about us. I can forgive anybody for making a mistake, but when a person demonstrates repeated criminal behavior time and again, yes put them away and throw away the key. As you said there is no doubt as to their guilt so why a long trial? There is NO excuse for there behavior,and there should be only one course of action. I would be happy to supply the bullits. I would like to see every police officer have a camera and mic on them at all time and have them turn it on when dealing with the public. We would have a recording of every encounter so there is no question about who said or did what. I also think past criminal history should be used to help decide possible fault. For example, if one person has a criminal past and the other does not it COULD be an indicator when all else fails. Well, that is why I could never be a cop, I could not put up with the disrespect criminals have for police and the general public.
God Bless

American Confucius said...

Great comments. I must address a few of your points however.

First of all, I completely disagree with your flat assertion that all lobbying should be prohibited. Most importantly, the right to lobby derives from our 1st amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition our government. Morever, lobbies represent groups of people and institutions with similar interests. Without lobbyists, very little would get done in Congress and this country would screech to a halt. Lobbyists essentially serve as advisors to legislative bodies. As of late lobbying has unfairly received a bad rap especially from the Abramoff scandal. There are definitely bad apples (which is true for any industry), but again, lobbyists do a great service for our country and the folks they represent. The problem is, lobbyists are usually associated with big bad corporate America. While yes corporate America has the money to hire top political insiders as effective lobbyists, I believe a strong corporate America is absolutely essential to the economic well-being of our country and that the interests of Wall Street, generally speaking, are aligned with the interests of "main street." Lastly, lobbyists do not get federal taxpayer money. But if their lobby is successful, then in many instances they bring money to their clients. But again remember their clients are taxpaying Americans too. Believe it or not, we ALL probably have some lobbyists working for our interests right now, we just don't know it. While I understand why you think lobbying should be outlawed, I implore you to reconsider your position.

I've spoken with a few individuals who also have clear reservations about the Bilderberg group. But the common thread seems to be that they also have strong reservations about AIPAC, or also referred to as the Israel Lobby. They believe that groups like Bilderberg and AIPAC control everything from foreign policy to domestic economy. They believe that these groups have been controlling our presidents for decades and are responsible our international excursions. In fact, they are convinced that AIPAC was responsible for 9/11. The theory goes, AIPAC wants the middle east destroyed (or democratized) for the sake of Israel and so we can share in the oil wealth. So from your views of the Bilderberg group, I thought you'd also have those views about AIPAC. Apparently I was wrong.

Lastly, you mention you'd like to see one's past crimes be considered in determining guilt. A few words on this. As a general rule, a prosecutor is prohibited from introducing evidence of past criminal history, unless the suspect is on trial for sexual misconduct and his past crimes were of a similar nature. The idea is that we want to judge folks only for the crimes for which they are on trial for and not have a bunch of mini-trials for his past crimes, regardless of whether he was adjudicated guilty for those past crimes of not. Judicial efficiency is a huge consideration during trials. However, at least in federal courts, a prior history does play into sentencing. A federal judge is permitted to depart upward or downward from the Sentencing Guidelines depending on the nature of the prior crime.

Enjoyed the conversation SouthernHeart.

Anonymous said...

It is not a problem with the burden of proof or the proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The law just makes a difference between planning a crime or actually doing it.

E.g. imprisoning somebody without proofing his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and granting due process to the suspect would be false imprisonment, which constitutes a crime. That you advocate such crime does you not by itself render a criminal. Only actually committing such crime would render you a criminal.

American Confucius said...

Anonymous: my main point may have been lost in the ramblings. It was that sometimes prosecutors are required to go above and in my opinion too far beyond what is necessary to convict. In some extraordinary instances, where it is obvious that the suspect is guilty, they are still thrown into a long and costly judicial process that seems like a waste. And perhaps having the alternative standard may improve judicial efficiency without damaging the notion that all suspects are innocent until proven guilty. I understand however that this is probably unrealistic since it would probably mean having to amend the Bill of Rights. But I don't think its a terrible idea.