Our legal system is broken beyond repair, or is it?

In the past several months I have been riding an emotional roller coaster, like many around the country and perhaps the world. The emotions flow from court cases and survival stories in the news fed by the right wing media. Yes right wing, not liberal left. The conservative talk show entertainers of the nation help feed on emotions and not the facts. It is great for ratings.

Our trial courts put people on trial for crimes we believe they have committed. Some people who are accused of  horrific crimes remain in jail awaiting trial because they are determined a flight risk. Others are allowed to go about their business because they appear safe to our community.

When the defense goes to trial, we understand deals were attempted to avoid the trial in the first place. When the talks fail and a deal cannot be reached, the trial begins. It is often the emotions of the case, and the showboat effect from attorneys, that override the facts. Attorneys present a story based on the facts as they see them and present witnesses and professional witnesses to win the case.

A jury must decide who to believe based on science and from professional’s “expert opinion.”  The jurists are of varied educational backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs. The prosecution and defense must agree on the jury selection.

So why, as a society,  do we get so worked up emotionally and physically when we hear a jury decision read? We get so worked up over these decisions that, as a society, we threaten the lives and safety of the winners and can even start riots as a result of a jury’s decision.

When I first heard Jaycee Dugard (the 13-year old abductee) was found and rescued from the home of Phillip Garrido, I was elated and angry at the same time. As time went on, and the full story emerged, I wished the worst on Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy.

But, then I reflected back. The justice system failed with a capital F. I remember when the Taser gun was invented. Several people in law enforcement warned that it was a non-lethal use of force that might be used for evil. Others said and countered that the police could use it instead of guns and no one in their right mind would consider it for other uses. The Taser gun was used by Phillip Garrido to abduct Jaycee Dugard.

As the story was told, Mr. Garrido threatened Jaycee repeatedly with the Taser gun if she did not follow his demands. But, someone in the criminal system decided the convicted sex offender was safe to be returned to society. He was visited on several occasions at his home, deceiving the law enforcement officers trained to notice unusual behavior. Most important, he understood and mastered how to play on the emotions of the officers. They did not see behind the fence where Jaycee was kept captive. Jaycee lost 18 years of her life to a savage. In the court system, a deal was reached so that Jaycee did not need to face this man again. But, according to the law, Phillip Garrido had the right to face his accuser. Who came up with this rule?

The Casey Anthony case is another example of misunderstanding and confusion.

I did not watch the case in full, as most of the nation did. I personally had no interest. The facts would speak for themselves. A little girl, Caylee was tragically murdered several years ago, and law enforcement needed to find answers. To avoid redundancy, a body was found and all signs pointed to the mother, Casey Anthony. All the signs pointed to her, but the facts did not. Casey lied to the police and the grandmother did not report her granddaughter missing for over a month. We can speculate all we want, but this does not lead to murder. Casey Anthony was kept in prison for three years as a flight risk? In the end, a jury decided there was reasonable doubt as to who actually killed Caylee. Based on the media circus, the talk show circuit, and the nation who did not hear all the facts, we found Casey Anthony guilty, and threats against her life were reported. All based on the death of a little girl Caylee, that no nobody really knew. Innocent until proven guilty? I understand Caylee became a national celebrity under tragic circumstances, but we lost sight through emotions and disregarded the facts. Time will reveal the truth.

Recently reported on the TV show 60 Minutes, legal scholars are revisiting old murder cases where emotions over rode the facts and hard evidence of the case. DNA and modern methods for evidence processing that was not understood or presented is now being given a second look.  Many cases are being overturned as a result.

Allen Prell lives in Keizer.