Everybody's Got One
A blog. An opinion. An elimination orifice. A dream. An agenda. A past. A hidden talent. A conceptual filter. A cross. A charism (often the same). A task. A wound. A destiny. A lost love. A blind spot. A bad habit. A secret. A passion. A soul ... okay, maybe not everybody ...
Saturday, November 16, 2002


Yesterday I heard a presentation by Jose Padilla's defense team, which struck me as a great pearl of endangered-rights fear-mongering around a grain of legitimate concern. When the facts are against you, argue the law, of course; when the facts and the law are both against you, pound the table and holler about the Constitution. But incipient tyranny? An Imperial executive? Martial law? Torture? Suspects at risk of being "disappeared"? Please. (Of course, they also argue there are no facts of the case. No dirty bomb. No Al Qaeda connection. No proven terrorist threat. Nothing to see here. Move along.)

I was aware of the presumption of innocence, but not of the Defense Counsel's Corollary: the presumption of bad faith on the part of the government. It's a logical consequence, I suppose: if you presume that your client has no business in the courtroom in the first place, then all evidence must be presumed tainted, all witnesses and informants presumed self-serving and untruthful, all accusations and indictments presumed arbitrary and agenda-driven.

It seems to me that the presumption of innocence is a legal fiction, a procedural rule-of-thumb required to play the game properly – akin to the willing suspension of disbelief needed to approach a narrative or a work of art. Problems arise when people confuse this fictional positioning with an objective reality, or confuse innocence-at-law – which essentially means not-found-guilty, either as-yet or after-the-fact – with actual innocence. Maybe we ignorant non-professionals just don't understand when lawyers use English-sounding words that actually have specialized, technical meanings.

(Full disclosure: I am fundamentally persuaded that the so-called system of so-called-justice in this country is broken beyond the possibility of repair. Criminal in particular, but civil as well. If I had the slightest idea what to replace it with, I'd advocate burning it to the ground and starting over. But I don't, and don't. I remain open to the possibility that ascertaining truth through adversary proceedings may, like democracy, be the worst possible system devisable – except for all the others tried. This thought depresses me greatly, however.)

It seems to me that Christians are well-advised to make our way through the world with a presumption both of sinfulness and of good faith; that the offenses that come were not intended to harm, that most people are pretty much doing the best they can with broken selves. That makes for a very different – even counter-cultural – approach to people and events. Which doesn't mean we shouldn't serve on juries, or even be officers of the court – but there are meaningful reasons we are counseled to settle things among ourselves without going to court; not so much from last-farthing fear of the temporal consequences, but from fear of what it might do to our tender, imperfect Christ-selves.

posted by Kelly | 2:55 PM link