August 7, 2012 by FredConnors
Criminal trials are like weddings. Friends and family of the bride/victim sit on one of the aisles, the groom/defendant’s people on the other.
As a criminal courts reporter, I have covered hundreds of them. Courtroom faces and case circumstances change, but the ambience seldom wavers. Crime writers wanting to pack more truth into their fiction would be wise to attend a few trials for a real world grasp of how it works.
Presumption of innocence be damned, most defense attorneys spend a lot of time reminding jurors it is not his client’s duty to prove his innocence, but rather the prosecution’s burden to prove guilt. Jurors are people, and people tend to form subconscious loyalty to victims.
As the prosecutor marches out his arsenal of forensic and material evidence and eyewitness and expert testimony, he feeds off the emotional reactions of victim supporters in the gallery. Judges warn against outward displays of emotion but even they can’t mask the jury from the sniffles, tears, hand holding and hugs as family members see a blow by blow description of what that monster at the defendant’s table had done to their loved one.
Savvy prosecutors will position themselves with victim loved ones as a backdrop so jurors can see their pain. Wise defense attorneys steer jurors’ eyes in another direction. Testimony and attorney arguments tell what happens at a trial. Emotions show how people feel about it.
A wedding highlight is the happy exit of the new mister and misses as guests rejoice on both sides of the aisle. Not so much at a trial. The defendant either walks free or shuffles out of the courtroom in cuffs and shackles. Depending on the outcome, one side is thrilled at a just verdict. The other side is devastated.
In cases of heinous crimes, both sides lose. Even with a guilty verdict, rape victims spend the rest of their lives dealing with the trauma; and families of murder victims have a perpetual hole in their hearts. The rapist or killer leaves behind a family to deal with shame and guilt. He victimizes his own family. Innocent wives and children are left to fend for themselves.
Weddings culminate with a gala celebration marking the beginning of a lifetime of memories. Nobody can measure the pain attached to a criminal trial. The jury is still out on that.