Patterico's Pontifications

6/14/2005

Dafydd: Can Celebrities Be Convicted Anymore?

Filed under: General — Dafydd @ 1:09 pm



It’s not so much the verdict in the Jackson case — there are good reasons why a jury might legitimately have found him not guilty — but the comments of the jurors in TV interviews that have me depressed.

I begin to believe that we have entered the Era of Infinite “Second Chances”… for celebrities.

Fair disclosure: I believe, based on what I have seen, heard, and read over the past ten years, that Michael Jackson did have deliberate sexual contact with not one but several prepubescent and pubescent boys; so my reactions are all colored by this.

What I found most discouraging was listening to the juror interviews. It all seemed to boil down to this:

  • The jury really, really despised the mother because they didn’t like the way she interacted with them (snapping her fingers, looking funny at the jurors, squirmy on the stand). Therefore, they concluded she must be lying about every aspect of her testimony.
  • Because the mother was lying, the jury concluded that even though they personally found the accuser believable, he must be lying as well, since what he said matched what she said. All three jurors that I heard, one of them the foreman, said this in almost as many words: if the mother was lying, then the boy must be lying. Thus, if a weasily person says X, then a believable person also says X — rather than corroborate the weasily person’s testimony, it taints the believable person’s testimony!
  • The jurors said there was no way Jackson would have molested the boy, since he knew that people had their eye on him because of the earlier allegations in the 1990s. Lesson learned! This is the one that depressed me the most — because it’s 180° off course: it is commonplace for molesters to do it again and again and again, because it’s not a rational calculation — it’s an uncontrollable urge. This doesn’t prove Jackson did it, of course; but it’s a null argument against him doing it. However, that’s what the jury seems to have believed.
  • Weirdest misunderstanding: all three agreed that there was something wrong and creepy about a forty-something man admitting that he likes to sleep in a bed with unrelated minor children. All three found the other alleged victims of Jackson from the earlier accusations more convincing than the current boy, hence they believed there was a pattern. But the only juror who was explicitly asked what rôle this played in the deliberations said (as close a direct quotation as I can render) “oh, we were all very troubled by those factors; but the judge instructed us to put all that out of our minds and only look at the evidence, so we did our best to ignore all that stuff.”
  • Arrgh! I very strongly doubt that the judge instructed any such thing. “The jury should ignore lawful evidence in this case that I have already allowed in if it might lead to a guilty verdict.”

    My conclusion is that we have reached an age where no major (or perhaps even minor) celebrity can be convicted of any serious crime by a jury, no matter what the evidence. Jackson, Blake, OJ — when was the last time a jury convicted a celebrity? Everything these jurors said sounded to me like rationalizations for what they wanted to do all along: acquit Michael Jackson of all charges because he is Michael Jackson. Just as I believe the OJ jury struggled to find any hook to hang an acquittal on; the late and unlamented (at least by me) Johnny Cochran — and the on-time but equally despised Barry Scheck and Robert Shapiro — only had to toss out a few suggestions: Mark Fuhrman, racism, rush to judgment, Mark Fuhrman, faithless ex-wife, a shrunken glove that didn’t quite fit, Mark Fuhrman. And in the Robert Blake murder trial, the jury chose to disbelieve every prosecution witness, then acquitted Blake for lack of evidence.

    In September, Phil Spector will doubtless be acquitted of murdering Lana Clarkson… and it won’t make any difference what the evidence shows.

    We have entered the era of infinite second chances for the famous: every celebrity accused of a major crime (or convicted of a minor crime) will be given “a second chance,” no matter how many second chances he has gotten in the past. If OJ were to kill some future girlfriend under circumstances exactly like the last case, and even if there are ten witnesses and a videotape, he will be acquitted at trial. “He couldn’t have killed Melody,” the jurors will say in interviews, “because he would have known from the last time that he couldn’t get away with it!”

    Lessons learned.

    14 Responses to “Dafydd: Can Celebrities Be Convicted Anymore?”

    1. A Federal jury in NY convicted Martha Stewart. Maybe the problem is with California jurrors or jury selection procedures in our state?

      Stu707 (b13883)

    2. I think your point is a bit undercut by your opening sentence. You note that there are legitimate reasons why a jury might have found Jackson not guilty but then go one to bemoan that celebrities aren’t found guilty. Well, in this case, as you note, there were legitmate reasons why that is so.

      I also think you have to take the juror’s comments as a whole and not pull certain lines out. A trier of fact certainly takes the witnesses demeanor into account in assessing their credibility. For a juror to note the mother’s snapping to me just indicates they didn’t like her demeanor which effected their assessment of her testimony in the same way a witness who hestitates, looks down, looks at the defendant or the attorney might evidence poor credibility.

      From what I’ve read of the juror’s comments they seem to be spot on. The prosecution simply didn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. They seem to express the “something happened” attitdue but that isn’t the standard of proof. Beyond a reasonable doubt it.

      What I would like to see is any statistics that say celebrities are acquitted in greater numbers/proportion than non-celebrites for similar crimes. How many other people were found not guilty of murder at or near the same time Robert Blake and/or OJ were?

      Second, I might suggest that one of the problems with at least some of the cases is with the prosecution. As Sneddon noted, they don’t pick their victims but they do pick their cases. Sneddon did not need to overreach with the conspiracy charge. It might’ve been a whole different trial if the mother didn’t testify about being held against her will while going to the spa. (aside…the victim had lied before at the mother’s urging against his father so I don’t find it odd the juror’s thought if mother lied, so did kid).

      Second, Sneddon didn’t do the job Jackson’s atty did in researching the mother’s background.

      Similarly, in the Kobe Bryant trial the victim didn’t come off very well with certain physical evidence and her story.

      Robert Blake’s trial rested on the testimony of two people the jury found incredible.

      In short, the cases themselves just weren’t very good to begin with.

      What some people seem to have a problem with is ANYONE being acquitted. They can’t seem to get around the burden of proof. It’s like “well, we charged him, we have all this evidence, so you have to convict him.” Sometimes, like here and Blake, the prosecution did not meet its burden.

      I’m not saying it’s their fault but it’s also not the fault of a jury for upholding the law. Sometimes the facts to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt just aren’t there.

      Ross (cd96f6)

    3. Stu707, Martha Stewart was convicted of a relatively trivial offense — lying to investigators — for which she served only a few months. And this was not a major “morals” crime, like child molestation or murder; it was simply a financial dispute that got ugly.

      That is, the jury could find her guilty without having to find her “evil.”

      Which fits the pattern precisely: she was convicted of a minor crime… and she was given a trivial sentence that amounts to a “second chance.” I was also thinking of celebrities convicted of drug crimes or shoplifting or such, who are routinely sentenced to treatment centers or community service (gratis performances), even on the fifth or sixth convictions.

      Contrast this with another recent sensational trial: the Scott Peterson trial; the jury had no difficulty believing he murdered his wife and unborn child, despite the fact that he, too, had the best legal defense that money can buy.

      Dafydd

      Dafydd (df2f54)

    4. Winona Ryder was convicted of shoplifting. Tom Sizemore was convicted of domestic violence. It does happen.

      Patterico (afc2c6)

    5. But Dafydd is right: the successes tend to be with misdemeanors.

      Patterico (afc2c6)

    6. “the successes tend to be with misdemeanors” possibly because there really aren’t too many big crimes committed by felonies. It isn’t like celebrities are out there day in day out committing major felonies.

      Might I suggest that the reverse is true in that a celebrity has a greater chance of being charged with a serious crime where a non-celebrity would not. I can’t speak for CA, but here in Chicago I doubt a non-celebrity would’ve been charged based on the evidence in the Kobe Bryant or Michael Jackson.

      Kobe’s case would’ve been reviewed by a prosecutor whow would’ve called it a he said – she said and rejected felony charges. The police would’ve filed misdemeanor battery charges against him. That happens quite frequently here. Also, people are less likely to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a dream team of lawyers for a simple pot or shoplifting case.

      Michael Jackson’s case also based on the evidence would’ve probably not been charged although it’s a closer case.

      One of the only reasons R.Kelly was charged here was because it was on videotape. Otherwise, I doubt he’d have been charged.

      I wonder if a local DA worries that if they don’t charge a celebrity they’ll be called to account for why the celebrity got a pass. Thus, they take weaker cases than they should.

      Ross (cd96f6)

    7. Another thing all the aquittals have in common is that the victim (or his mother)is a repulsive parasite. It shouldn’t enter into a decision about guilt or innocence, but it does.
      Also, body language should not be dismissed out of hand. I’m notoriously poor about such things, but during the recent “finger in the chili” case, I chanced upon a video of the accuser confronting reporters in her driveway, with no audio. That she was a lying grifter was so obvious, even I got it.

      Rick (04f1e7)

    8. Dafydd, your point about Stewart’s offense being relatively trivial in comparison to the charges against Wacko is well taken. I think Stewart’s offense was a felony though and the judge might have sentenced her to more than a few months custody.

      Stu707 (b13883)

    9. I think Stewart’s offense was a felony though and the judge might have sentenced her to more than a few months custody.

      Heh, Stu707… first the guest bloggers’ posts are mistaken for Patterico’s — and now Patterico’s comments are mistaken for a guest blogger’s!

      It was he, not I, who wrote “misdemeanors,” referring (correctly) to two other cases. I wrote “relatively trivial.”

      Here is the demarkation point for me: an offense is relatively trivial, whether misdemeanor or felony, if you can find the accused guilty without finding him evil.

      If someone is found guilty of armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, serious arson, molestation, murder, or even attempted murder or mayhem, most folks would say he was evil; finding someone guilty of shoplifting — or even lying to an investigator over an underlying crime that was never even charged — doesn’t cause people to think him evil… just stupid, crazy, addicted, or frightened.

      Juries today are not afraid to admit that celebrities are flawed and “need help;” I’ve seen no evidence they’re willing to say any of them is evil. The best example is the OJ trial: anyone would have been charged under that weight of evidence; and in any non-celebrity trial, even Johnny Cochran could not have secured an acquittal.

      That result required celebrity.

      Dafydd

      Dafydd (df2f54)

    10. I think your thesis is incomplete, Daffyd, in this sense: The problem is not that juries will not convict a celebrity because the won’t consider them evil, but that they will only convict a celebrity IF they consider them evil — as in the Martha Stuart case. There the jury convicted and the pundits were all predicting that Martha would walk because the case was so weak. Guess not.

      When a celebrity is involved, the jury becomes totally uninterested in the facts of the case or any logical argument. Instead it’s all emotion – if the celebrity is successfully demonized a conviction can be secured. If the prosecution plays it straight and the media whitewashes the star the jury will vote not guilty every time.

      Evidence? Ha! Any size mountain of evidence will be dismissed. And afterwards the pundits try to find some incident, some turning point, “if it doesn’t fit you must acquit” or the finger shaking or whatever. But even this is an admission that the weeks and weeks of evidence meant nothing and the verdict turns on some catchy slogan or offhand insult – if it wasn’t pre-decided from the first day.

      But remove the celebrity, and suddenly the jury gets sensible, even when the evidence is much less that in these cases. Scott Petersen shows that.

      Chris Smith (5bb1c9)

    11. The problem is with the media coverage of these cases pretrial which results in reasonably intelligent potential jurors being excused because they have formed an opinion and exposed to the enormous press coverage. This leaves only the ignorant prospective jurors from the community who watch Jerry Springer and other such nonsence or people who can take 6 months to a year away from their non-busy and otherwise empty lives to sit as jurors. These jurors, of course, are easily manipulated by skilled defense lawyers which is why most defense lawyers love “adverse pretrial publicity”. We need to put a stop to this if the system is ever going to work. We also need to stop these six month trials.

      Raymond L. Marky (4f0196)

    12. […] his phrase. I almost jumped, as this is just what I was reaching for in my previous post, Dafydd: Can Celebrities Be Convicted Anymore?, where I suggeste […]

      Patterico’s Pontifications » Dafydd: “Mainstreaming Celebrity Decadence” (0c6a63)

    13. Mr. Marky I have a question for you. Why is it that I have never once heard a prosecutor complain about an ignorant jury that convicts an innocent man? Here in Illinois there have been about 13 people on death row who have turned out not to have committed the offense. Never once did I hear the prosecutor in the case of the State’s Atty for that county say anything other than “well, the jury heard the case and decided they were guilty.”

      They never say the jury was ignorant even though the prosecution helped pick a jury favorable to them by kicking off people whose relatives were previously charged or convicted of crimes, or other reason why they wouldn’t be “fair” (meaning: they might actually hold the State to their burden).

      Maybe I’m the only criminal defense atty reading this but it seems to me the main of this argument is that the celebrities are always guilty and thus any acquittal is the result of scum bag defense attorneys or ignorant juries. It’s more remarkable because Dafydd began his post by noting there were legitimate reasons for the Jackson acquittal.

      I’ll give you O.J. That was a joke. No doubt about it. I don’t, however, think it was a because he was a celebrity I think it was because he was black and the jury was going to give him a pass no matter what.

      What all the three main CA celebrity trials have in common is less the celebrity nature of the defendant and more the resources they had. OJ was able to hire a team of lawyers that your average defendant would not. Blake too was able not just to hire a good lawyer but a great private investigator who was able to dig up dirt on his wife. Not coincidently, Jackson hired the same PI to dig up the dirt on the mother as well as hiring a team of great lawyers.

      The celebrities may be getting off not because a jury won’t convict celebrities but because celebrities are able to hire lawyers and PI’s disproportionate to the average defendant and thus get better legal representation to expose the weaknesses in the State’s case.

      Ross (1edd09)

    14. […] 12; but that there just wasn’t quite enough evidence to convict in this case. I was skeptical, as you may remember. Today I wake up, look at Drudg […]

      Patterico’s Pontifications » Dafydd: (0c6a63)


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