Padilla and OJ Juries — Two of a Kind

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The OJ murder case and the jury’s not guilty verdict back in the 1990s illustrated how questions of social justice may substitute — in the minds of jurors — for facts on the ground. The OJ verdict could be seen as a utilitarian verdict of sorts, at least from a community perspective (black against white, loved football star versus angry government and racist cops). It would be nice to see the same contempt expressed by jurors for the federal government prosecution in the ongoing Michael Vick dog fighting case. I’m not holding my breath.

In the OJ trial, emotions trumped complicated evidence. The power of a sportsmen’s image and an expensive team of charming lawyers trumped facts on the ground. The jury’s verdict was fueled by contempt for the government prosecution, its perceived malice, and its obvious incompetence.
In the Padilla case — a similar phenomenon seemed to happen to the red, white and blue clothed jury. Emotions (this time a pseudo-post-9-11 patriotism) trumped evidence. The image of a poorly-educated American gangster turned passionate Muslim student (how dare he attempt to study in a foreign language!) trumped the reality that Padilla didn’t do squat to hurt this country, or any person in it (that is, after he converted to Islam). The jury again chose sides in advance, this time assessing Padilla’s guilt or innocence in terms of their contempt for the defendant, his co-defendants, and any un-American lawyer who would take such a case.

The OJ jury was in love with the defendant, awed by his singing and dancing defense team, and justifiable jaundiced by the government prosecutors. In the Padilla case, we see a jury in love with the government, in awe of its puffed-up, silver-screen prowess, and fooled by its repetition and rhymes.

As in the OJ case, justice may still come, in the form of sentencing as time served, or subsequent successful civil suits on behalf of Padilla and his family based on his physical torture, mental destruction, and his unconstitutional five-year incarceration without charge.

Last week, I foolishly believed the Padilla verdict would serve as a sign that we were turning away from American fascism. Instead, it is a confirmation that we are closer to irrational, monster-fearing, self-censoring, state-glorifying, atomized society than ever.

5:07 pm on August 20, 2007