The recent case of an illegal alien from Mexico found not guilty in the killing of a woman created a whirlwind of outrage. President Trump called the verdict “disgraceful.” Pundits screamed that illegals are ruining the country.
Once again, the President and those outraged by the verdict miss the point.
This case was not about immigration status, it was not a forum for immigration policy, nor was it a platform to visit anger on illegal aliens because we are frustrated with the problem.
It was a criminal case, tried under criminal procedure, with a jury rendering a verdict.
Was the verdict just? If one has faith in the jury process, then of course it was. It is in this very jury system in which we should take great pride.
Under our laws, only a jury may judge a defendant guilty. There are exceptions should a defendant choose to allow the judge to render the verdict, but even that choice lies with the defendant not the government.
No one in government can decide the guilt or innocence of a defendant.
Not a prosecutor.
Not public opinion.
Not even the President of the United States.
We do empower the President with the authority to pardon criminals, the intent being to right historical wrongs or situations in the best interest of the country. We may soon see such authority in action depending on what Mueller does next, but that is beside the point.
The power to judge a person guilty or innocent lies with a jury. It is the foundation of American jurisprudence and one we should zealously embrace and protect.
The founding fathers and the ensuing history of the courts have always leaned towards the importance of insuring the rights of the defendant over the demands of society. History is full of examples where those in power perverted the process for political or social reasons and ultimately the courts reversed these verdicts.
We so enshrined the jury verdict that the rule of double jeopardy attaches to a not guilty verdict. Once a jury finds a defendant not guilty they cannot be tried again for the same crime. This shields the defendants from the power of government seeking to try and retry until they achieve their desired purpose.
Now, this case should bring outrage among Americans and those who have come to this country legally. The outrage about our failed immigration system and inadequate protections should foster demands for change. Those changes need more than a wall.
One could argue our outrage should be directed against the prosecutor or investigators who decided to over-charge in the case. Since our only look at the evidence presented at trial is tainted by the filter of reporters interpretations of testimony, we haven’t a reliable way to judge.
But this is not a matter about illegal aliens. We should take pride in the fact that our justice system strives to fairness. It seeks to focus on the evidence and elements of the crime charged, not the politics of the day.
Mr. Trump can tweet all day long, but our system rightfully prevents him from having any authority to determine guilt or innocence. No one knows what the future holds. But I would venture to say, in the event a member of Mr. Trump’s administration went to trial and the jury returned a not guilty verdict, the President would embrace the wisdom of that jury.
Of course, so far, those charged have opted out of facing a jury and went straight to “If you think I’m bad, let me tell you about…”
As a rather amusing talking head former prosecutor said, “when one a your homeboys starts talking, somebody goin’ to jail.”
Now there’s something to wonder about.