Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Innocent unless... yeah right

John Terry was, up until earlier this month, the captain of England's national soccer team. He was stripped of the captaincy because he has been charged with "racially abusing" a player from another team back last October.

The head of the F.A. (the body in charge of English soccer), David Bernstein, made the announcement after Mr. Terry's trial had been postponed to July. At the same time, the F.A. said that its move was not implying any guilt on Mr. Terry's part in the alleged incident.


Now I'm not a fan of England's particular style of soccer. Rather than seeing balls launched downfield in the hopes that a striker can catch up to it, I prefer the speed and agility of the Spanish game. Deft touches, creative attacking and possession-oriented play is much more up my alley that the "Route One" football preferred in England.

But that's all beside the point here. We could talk about the absurdity of making it a crime to utter unfriendly speech. We could talk about how you really cannot legislate thought. We could talk about how it's intellectually dishonest to punish those who speak more harshly than those who just think, or legislate.

I'm more interested, however, in how we treat those accused of committing a crime. We are told that everyone is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. We also know that's a creative fiction. The defendant in a criminal case is rarely, if ever, presumed innocent.

And it doesn't matter how many times you tell a panel of jurors that your client is innocent and that the only presumption the jury is allowed to make is that the defendant is innocent. The judge treats him as if he's guilty - high bonds and stringent bond conditions. And don't forget the very act of calling your client "the defendant" in front of the jury - we certainly can't allow those jurors to appreciate the fact that your client is every bit as human as they are.

The leadership of the F.A. assumes Mr. Terry is guilty. Why else would they strip him of his captaincy. A captaincy that was awarded to him by the players on the team? The choice of captain should not be a political matter. The choice of captain should be based on who is best suited to lead the team on the field. And stripping Mr. Terry of his role as captain of the national team sends the message to the nation that he did something wrong. It sends the message that he's guilty. It tells every potential juror that the people running the national team believe that Mr. Terry did exactly what the government has accused him of.

And that's one way to poison the jury pool.

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