We should fast-forward through Jacko’s 14-week trial
The trial of pop star turned freak Michael Jackson entered its 14th week as the jury began its deliberations on 10 counts of child molestation brought against Jackson. If you’ve followed the trial, shame on you – you have better things to do with your time. If you have been following the trial, then it must be some consolation that you’re not alone. Millions of folks with time on their hands and air in their heads have paid attention to the charges, the counter charges, who’s been wearing what, or who’s not been wearing what, in the case of the day Jackson showed up in his pajamas. There is one aspect to the trial that should concern everyone, however; why has the trial taken 14 weeks? If you watch television, whether it’s reruns of Perry Mason or one of the multitude of Law & Order shows, you can’t help but come away with the impression that justice in America is swift, if not always sure.
Of course, if you’ve ever been involved in a jury trial, then you know that justice in reality is nothing like justice as the entertainment shown on television. The lawyers are rumpled and mumble, the evidence is muddled and confusing, and the judges hesitant to make a decision that might become the grounds for an appeal. Court TV, a cable network devoted to live coverage of the hot trials of the day and thus the ultimate in reality television, now rarely shows actually live court coverage. They’ve discovered that no matter the charges, the trials themselves are slow and dull. In the case of the Jackson trial, they’ve found it more entertaining to replay each day’s testimony using actors and scripts, and panel discussions rather than live coverage.Part of the explanation for the length of the trial is the jury and the jury selection process. Juries these days represent the lowest common denominator of American citizen. First, 12 people have to be found that know nothing about Michael Jackson and if they do, then they must convince the court that they haven’t formed an opinion about Michael Jackson and the charges against him.
A similar process is at work in the selection of the judge. The really good jurists are in private practice making the big bucks or, if they’re still on the bench, have moved up the ladder to appellate courts and beyond. And what judge in his right mind would want to take the bench for a freak show involving Michael Jackson and child molestation charges? Moreover, the judge that ends up with the trial, facing a parking lot of cameras and “news” analysts from around the world, could exercise his best judgment and try to keep the lawyers and the jury focused by ruling out extraneous information and testimony, but they rarely do. Judges in these cases tend to let the lawyers present everything and everyone that might have something to say about Jackson and the charges against him. As a result, it’s hard to know if the trial is a freak show because of the defendant and the charges, or a freak show because the judge lets the lawyers make the trial a freak show.The Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial, and a trial of 14 weeks is anything but. The good news is that trials like this are an exception.
The typical jury trial numbers a matter of days, typically less than a week, nothing like the 14 weeks required so far for the Jackson trial, and nothing approaching the year required for a decision in the case of O.J. Simpson.And the typical jury trial has little entertainment value, as Court TV has discovered, unless the defendants want it to be entertaining. In the case of the Jackson trial, or its freakish forefather the trial of O.J. Simpson, not one word was ever uttered by either side about the need for swift justice. These 14 weeks are Jackson’s last visit to the limelight; his career is done and his personal life a wreck. For those of us who want to remember Jackson the entertainer and not Jackson the freak, however, 14 is more than enough.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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