by Jacob G. Hornberger
The statists are upset over the jury’s verdict in the federal court trial of former Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. After hearing and considering all the evidence, the jury returned a verdict of acquittal on 276 counts of murder and a verdict of guilty on one single count of conspiracy.
It’s not enough for the statists that Ghailani faces a potential life sentence on the conspiracy count. To them, the fact that the jury failed to return a verdict in which he would be facing 277 possible life sentences proves what a failure America’s federal criminal justice system under the U.S. Constitution is.
When a nation is mired in statism, sometimes it’s important to return to first principles.
The purpose of a trial in a criminal justice system is not to convict whomever the government accuses of a crime. If that were its purpose, then what would be the point of having a trial? All the government would have to do is simply accuse and punish, without any obstacles or impediments.
The purpose of a trial is not even to determine if an accused is guilty or innocent. Instead, its purpose is to determine whether the government can provide sufficient, competent evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that a person has, in fact, committed a criminal offense.
Suppose John Robber commits an armed robbery of a local church minister. The only evidence the state has is the minister’s word, but everyone knows that he is an honest and credible person. On the day of trial, the minister starts to take the witness stand to testify that John Robber robbed him, but the minister dies of a heart attack before he gets on the witness stand. The state is left without any evidence at all to convict John Robber.
What happens? Under our criminal justice system John Robber goes free. Since the state cannot prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, he walks out the courtroom a free man, even though it is clear to everyone that he committed the offense.
That is what statists hate about our constitutional system. They say: Punish John Robber anyway.
Deep down, statists hate our jury system, they hate our presumption of innocence, they hate our heavy burden of proof placed on the state (i.e., beyond a reasonable doubt), and they hate our exclusion of incompetent evidence (e.g., confessions acquired by torture) to convict a person.
To the statist, all that should be needed to punish a person is the state’s accusation. That’s all. Once the state accuses a person of being a murderer, a terrorist, a drug dealer, a robber, or a rapist, that should be the end of the matter, according to the statist.
We just need to trust the state. After all, the statist reminds us, the state is our daddy. It takes care of us. It is our provider and our protector. It provides our retirement, our children’s education, our health care, our jobs, our food, our housing, our money, and our welfare.
So, why shouldn’t we just trust the paternalistic state when it comes to protecting us from the bad guys? Our daddy wouldn’t let us down. He knows everything. He knows a terrorist when he sees a terrorist.
After all, what do we need a trial for when it’s obvious that a person is a terrorist? Isn’t that what the statists are saying? Isn’t that why they’re objecting to trials for the terrorists? How do they know that the terrorists are terrorists, especially without a trial? Because the government says they’re terrorists. For the statist, that’s the end of the matter.
The Framers bequeathed us a system of criminal justice that doesn’t place faith in the state. Instead, it says to the state: No matter how convinced you are that a person has committed an offense, you will have to prove it. And you’ll have to use only competent evidence to do it. And you’ll have to convince every single person on a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the person you’re accusing really is guilty of the offense.
Haven’t statists done enough damage to our country? Look at what they’ve done to our nation with their socialist, interventionist, and imperialist programs. Look at what they’ve done to our economic, educational, and monetary systems. Look at what they’ve done to our civil liberties and privacy. Must we permit them to destroy our criminal justice system too?
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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