Taking Counsel: Guilty! (until proven innocent...)

  • 2008-12-03
  • By Simo Soolo [Glikman & Partnerid]
Yes, this is the current applicable rule for every state, but in every state based on the rule of law these very same words, but in different order, should really constitute the presumption of innocence and also take effect in it's essential meaning, i.e: innocent until proven guilty!

It is a nice and meaningful principle which sadly happens to exist only on paper, or, if lucky, then it is printed in constitutions (e.g. in the Constitution of Estonia § 22 section 1) or some acts of procedural law (e.g. Code of Criminal Procedure § 7 section 1, Code of Misdemeanor Procedure § 4) but in real life its value is close to zero. We do not even bother ourselves thinking about it, not to mention discussing it. Why?

 Well, first of all 's we all are guilty! People happen to like everything that is fast, efficient and... stinks. What would be better off than immediate reflection of some dirty or bloody story? One does not even have to look around much to discover it. Sensation sells, and today's sensation is not scientific breakthroughs nor inhuman sacrifices for culture or some other noble targets; instead there is cruelty, sex and money.
If it bleeds it leads! For example every minute of the O.J. Simpson case was broadcast  and was observed with deep caution by millions in the U.S.A. and all over the world. Did I mention how long the process lasted? 133 days. There is no question about what sells and what people like. But to accuse only the audience in it may be injust.

 Therefore: we have another defendant who must be convicted guilty and that is the media, which covers just about everything to sell and make money. Every journalist should ask the same questions from himself/herself first as a human and then as a journalist 's 1) the 'key' or 'news' in current story; 2) the purpose of the story and; 3) what might be the possible cause of covering such story in such way.
Is the idea to broadcast the happening or just to throw some bone (i.e. news) for a savage beast (i.e. people) to chew? It is reality that today's events merely raise interest tomorrow. Just how often people are detained as a suspect in every state and then made it to the news? In comparison how often do we find facts about releasing suspects?

Usually the person conducting proceedings (e.g. police detective) is not able to do both on the same day and the news of releasing a suspect will fade with tomorrow's news. But everybody will remember the X who was the suspect, and to the understanding of average people being a suspect equals pleading guilty. Once suspected, he/she must have done something and again 's guilty as charged!
But then again 's who is a suspect? The answer is: nobody knows. As far as I am concerned it might be me, it might be you, it might be him or a member of his family or the person they know etc. Of course 's every state has the obligation to investigate and try crimes. And we must tolerate it even though it means infringing our civil rights and freedoms in the name of law and order. Then again - the very same civil rights and freedoms must protect us and grant to us, among everything else, the right to be innocent until the court's judgement of conviction.

Isn't it weird that we all seem to have heard about it and we tend to realize the meaning of the abovenamed principle, but that the reality is we do not have any idea of the essence of being innocent until proven otherwise? This is something that is mainly understandable for formal suspects and persons close to them. Meanwhile we pretend and like to think of them as some aliens far, far away. Watch out, because people are always hungering for information while journalists are feeding them. And vice-versa. To call it a symbiosis would be quite an exaggeration since it turns out to be a catastrophe in reality.

The body of the deceased barely starts to cool down when there is a nuclear-like explosion on the surface of tabloids, their Web sites and radio-TV news. Anything is squeezed out, just about from everything, to stay the eternal hunger for something 'creamy.' Even if there are people to be scared (to death) in achieving that. Let's remind ourselves how at the end of 1999 everybody was afraid of how the systems will collapse due to failure because programmers forgot to insert the millennium as a variable factor? The result 's massive purchase of generators, batteries, water, food, there were even people who took money out from ATMs and walked around the corner to the bank to make a payment to their account. And when the clock hit the 00:00 on the 1st of January in 2000 's nothing happened.

I am not saying that crimes and court proceedings should not be broadcast, quite the opposite! The question is about the manner and the way it is done. Would you now understand why spokesmen of the Prosecution Office and Police Department are slightly laconic while making statements? It can damage irreversibly not only proceedings but suspect's civil rights and freedoms as well. Just to be sure, I'd like to emphasize the meaning of "irreversibility" 's there is no way back, and executed injustment can not be turned to salvation. It is forever. Done. Finito. Let's think about it next time while starting to write or read a story. There is also another way 's prove me I was just wrong. But as far I am concerned, until then, you are...GUILTY (as charged)!

Simo Soolo is a lawyer at Glikman & Partnerid, a member firm of the Baltic Legal Solutions, a pan-Baltic integrated network of law firms including Kronbergs & Cukste in Latvia and Jurevicius, Balciunas & Bartkus in Lithuania, dedicated to providing a quality 'one-stop shop' approach to clients' needs in the Baltics.