Gongol.com Archives: June 2024

Brian Gongol

June 1, 2024

News Beyond a reasonable doubt

An arrest is not a conviction. The recent case of golfer Scottie Scheffler is a fair reminder that an arrest is an action undertaken, in the moment, by a law-enforcement officer. And sometimes, arresting police officers make mistakes, get carried away, or simply lie about what they witness. ■ Prosecutorial standards can be inconsistent. The movement to pardon or commute sentences over non-violent drug-related offenses is a reflection of growing acknowledgment that some communities have faced harsher penalties than others for the same offenses. ■ People can go on to be law-abiding, constructive citizens after spending time in the correctional system. Martha Stewart did hard time after a felony conviction, but she seems not to have pickpocketed or otherwise bilked close friends like Snoop Dogg in the nearly two decades since. ■ We are equal under the law. Besides a deadly Civil War to resolve the question, America has enshrined that standard of equal protection in the 14th Amendment and in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Equality means plainly that no citizen is without the protection of the law, nor is anyone above it. ■ The right to a trial by jury is a fundamental one. Americans can request the decision of a jury, screen the jurors for objectionable outlooks, and tailor arguments to try to appeal to their individual biases and predispositions. ■ Juries can be wrong. They can be unsophisticated. They can be imperfect in any of the ways that any collection of a dozen people might be. But juries selected at random from voter registration lists are structurally about as consistent with the principle of self-government as anything else we do in practical civic life. If the ordinary juror can understand the facts, the law, and the testimony presented, and emerge convinced of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, then that conviction is just about the most honest assessment a community can possibly give to the behavior of the accused.

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