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The Misadventures of Quinxy von Besiex truths, lies, and everything in between

15Jun/120

The Role of Show Trials

Apropos of almost nothing I was thinking the other day about show trials and how even the noblest of societies sometimes engage in trials which seem at best unnecessary and at worst horribly propagandist.  A common factor in show trials is the near universal expectation of a guilty verdict, and the arguable inability of the courts to produce any sentence other than guilt and any punishment other than the maximum available.  What I'm a little unclear about in my own mind is whether or not the inaccessibility of an innocent verdict means the court is necessarily corrupt.  In principle it should be p0ssible for any trial to end with the accused found "not guilty", even if the accused was in fact guilty of the crime.  An accused man may go free because of actual innocence, because of inadmissible evidence (either of an inappropriate type or material illegally obtained), because of juror/judge/lawyer misconduct (which may or may not be followed by a retrial), because of bad decisions by jurors, and probably a host of other reasons too subtle for me to be aware of.  The issue is that even someone who commits a murder in front of 100 trustworthy witnesses and several HD security cameras can potentially avoid a guilty verdict by some means.  Hopefully such situations where justice goes unserved in the name of some larger principle of justice (or as a result of errors) are extremely rare, but the possibility does exist.  In the case of a show trial, however, I would argue that that possibility has been removed.  Society wants a particular verdict and almost everyone involved in the administration of justice wants that same verdict, and that bias will likely create changes (subtle or severe) in how law is applied, keeping in inappropriate evidence, keeping out exculpatory evidence, seating a biased jury, etc.  And my question is really, does this represent a fatal flaw in our system of law that such things can occur?  Is it so bad that good societies sometimes do bad things in the name of satisfying some sort of collective will.  If you'd asked me many years ago I'm sure I would have argued that it was a very bad thing, that the court must always be impartial and that the trial of a universally hated individual is the perfect exercise for our judicial body, the perfect opportunity to prove (or simply discover) how fair our system is.  But I suppose there comes a point in growing older, or perhaps merely growing more aware of the flawed nature of all things, when the overly rigid application of rules seems at times to pervert rather than produce the results we need.  And perhaps that's what show trials are all about, the acceptance that a particular man (or woman) has already been tried and convicted by a vastly larger body of peers, and the court's role is to provide nothing more than a cathartic forum for allowing victims the right to share their pain, face their tormentor, and for society to have the crimes officially documented.  If we allow that that is so, that the court sometimes neglects its sworn duty, then I wish we could admit as much within our codes of law, thereby restoring honor and honesty to the system by defining when it cannot be relied upon to be so.

^ Quinxy

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