Sunday, July 4, 2010


"Nothing is so firmly believed as that which is least known."

The first step is to admit you have a problem. Put the remote down and step away from the television. Each night's marathon of crime shows -- all the countless variations of "CSI" and "Law and Order" -- are destroying our society sense of reality. They're pure fantasy, and so far from the truth that it would be laughable if people weren't taking their "as seen on TV" concepts of the criminal justice system into the jury box with them. In TV land, besides being so damn good-looking, the police spend plenty of time and effort on each case, using high-tech methods and equipment hardly dreamed of by the CIA. They actually seem to care about putting the right person behind bars rather than just obtaining a conviction. In Hollywood, judges are wise and just and neutral to both sides, prosecutors are always the good guys who don't lie and cheat to "win"; public defenders really go to the mat for their clients and are never, in fact, in the DA's pocket, and suspects are always guilty and punished fairly.
The reality is so much different. Police departments don't have the manpower and resources to dedicate exclusively to anyone case, yet alone manage their enormous daily workloads. Trials are so heavily skewed in the prosecution's favor as to render them fundamentally unfair."Innocent until proven guilty" is a myth. Politics, not justice, rules, the court room these days. Being "tough on crime" is all that matters anymore.

But it's our own fault; we've traded truth and justice for shock and awe, for entertainment value. Society has become enamored with crime and violence, fascinated by it, and at the same time more afraid of it than ever. The actual crime rate has fallen or remained the same for the past 30 years or so, crime reporting in the news has increased 100 fold, and people have been gleefully convinced that crime is burgeoning, that sexual predators roam their streets, and that their neighbor is a sociopath. Everyone is suspect.

But I believe that people usually accuse others of what they themselves harbor in the darkest recesses of their minds; and there can be no doubt that people's minds today have been seriously twisted by the huge amounts of violence and crime we're being fed: from the countless crime novels and "true crime" books published each month, to the myriad of television crime dramas and violent movies produced every week, to the graphically violent video/computer games being cranked out by the millions, to the days news' crime reporting each day- were being inundated with negative images. As a result, we've become more and more immune to the lesser forums' ability to affect us and entertain us, so it takes harsher, more graphic and disturbing material to do the trick. And, of course, big business delivers. After all, it's what we want, right? Crime and violence is obviously a favorite subject; the sales figures don't lie.

As an exercise, count how many guns you see on television in one evening. At the bookstore, count how many are about serial killers of some kind. And how many video/computer games have the objective to blow someone's/something's head off? Is it any wonder that, discounting those places with wars being fought, the United States is by far the most crime obsessed and violent country in the world with the greatest percentage of its citizens in prison?

Mass media, including the news, will shape the way we think and the way society acts, as long as we remain unaware and complacent and refuse to make our objections heard. The easiest person to control is the one who doesn't realize he's being controlled. Turn off your television; there's a reason they call it the "idiot box". Try to watch only positive, uplifting shows/movies. Choose only positive and educational reading material. Play only positive video/computer games, if you have to play them at all. Be selective and wary of what you watch and read. Take back control of what you put into your mind.

The fantasy world of crime and violence may be exciting, but the reality of it is something you never want to experience personally. It is not a game; there is no reset button. It's is not a movie; you are not Scarface or James Bond. Also, take it from someone who knows: drug and alcohol are responsible for most all of crime and violence. So as fun and exciting as they may seem, please leave them out of your life entirely.

Understand, too, that the real world of crime and violence is really no more pervasive than it ever has been. In many ways, it's less. It's the exception, not the rule, and lies on the fringe of society where it belongs. There's no need to be more "tough on crime" than in years past; and there's no need to punish people any more severely today. If anything, we need to be more understanding and caring about the causes of most crime, which, again, is drug and alcohol abuse/addiction, and focus instead on "tough love" when it comes to treatment and rehabilitation.

I wish that the real world sometimes did work like it does on television, but that just isn't the case. The sad truth is that our judicial system is just as corrupt and self-serving as our political system. Believe it or not, police and prosecutors often lie at trial. They withhold evidence favorable to the defendant and fabricate evidence against. And court-appointed "defense" attorneys are no less guilty, making backroom deals and serving their clients heads to the prosecution on a silver platter. They do it because the numbers of people being arrested and processed every day, for whatever reasons, are enormous, and it's just not feasible to grant a fair and complete hearing to each and every one of them. They do it because it's easier. They do it for political reasons, to boost their careers. They do it to purge society of the filth and trash they feel is lurking around every corner. They do it for a sense of empowerment in a dog eat dog world. They do it because they can.

When establishing the framework of our country's legal system, one of the founding fathers said something to the effect of, "it's better that a dozen guilty men go free than one innocent man be imprisoned wrongfully" and rules of law were set in place to prevent that from happening. Today, however, all it takes is an accusation to be thrown in jail. No evidence is required to be sentenced to life in prison. Simply being called a murderer or worse by the district attorney is enough for any jury these days. After all, an elected official wouldn't lie to us, would he ?

Being the good citizens, they are, a jury will always give the state the benefit of any doubt. The threat of a jury trial is always used when negotiating a plea bargain: "take this 15 years or I'll make sure the jury gives you 50" because juries aren't professionals; they have no idea what the "going rate" is, say, for robbery as a first -- ever offense and where no one was hurt. If the prosecutor says 50, then it must be 50. They have n no idea that many others are offered 10 years or less for the same offense, or that two others recently signed for 25 years for eight counts of robbery.

Sorry to dash your TV land, fairytale perceptions against the rocks, but this is the way it works in the real world. It's nothing personal -- someone has to go down for the crime, and it may as well be you. Your name/reputation will be dragged through the mud and you'll be portrayed as the worst person imaginable in order to influence the jury against you in sentencing. "Isn't it true that you killed a man with your bare hands?" (No. ) "Isn't it true that you had a plan to kidnap someone and hold them for ransom?" ( No...) and " Isn't true that you raped that woman?" (What woman? What are you talking about?! ) All baseless accusations, but for the jury, those bells have been rung, and there's no taking 'em back; those ideas/images have taken hold, despite your objections. In fact, the more you vehemently deny such unfounded allegations, the more guilty you seem: and of course the prosecution knows this. Plus, false and misleading "evidence" will be used against you, such a as a "Bomb"and a "Rape Kit", for example, which , of course , are nothing of the sort. Also, expert witnesses will testify that you have absolutely no conscience and cannot be rehabilitated, even though they've never met you and were just called at eight o'clock that morning to review your file. But even if you're able to overcome such treatment and be vindicated, the whole experience, lasting many months sometimes, is extremely dramatic. More than likely, the local news and Internet have shared every sordid detail, including the lies -- especially the lies -- with the world.

Of course, if you're guilty, you deserve to be punished, but at trial it's unlikely you'll be sentenced only for the crime you committed but for the extra half dozen other more horrible offenses the prosecutor has accused you of. The fact that there is no shred of evidence for any other crimes, that they are all just creations of his own cruel imagination, make no difference whatsoever. At trial, conviction alone is not enough: the greater the punishment, the greater the sentence, the greater the victory. So although this may be your first ever offense, the prosecutor will seek a life sentence based on all the "extraneous" crimes he was able to "prove up" by his word alone. And the jury, doing their part to make the world a safer place, and plainly terrified of the monster you most certainly are, will oblige him.

Anyway, please keep all this in mind if ever you find yourself in the jury box with someone's life in your hands.

Thanks, as always, for listening and caring. Bye for now. -- Eric

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