35 years ago today, at about the same time, 5 o’clock, I acquitted a man.
A sailor.

One of my first big cases.
It was here comes the judgea tough time in my life.

I have since realized I made a mistake.
He was guilty.

I did my own investigation.
He’s married with three children.
A grandson.
He is living in peace.

How many others could I have acquitted? Even guilty?

Deciding what is true and what isn’t
now seems to me a lack of modesty.

In their place?
Of course.

And that goes for everyone I judged.
Given their lives, I would steal.
I’d kill, I’d lie.
Of course I would.

All that
because I wasn’t in their shoes,
but mine.

—Krzysztof Kieślowski, Red


3 Responses to “Guilty”

  1. 1 Elva July 16, 2013 at 7:05 am

    Fits the theme of the day. How do we know how we,as a juror, would have decided the fate of George Zimmerman. I would not have liked to be in their shoes’

  2. 2 Alexa August 8, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    our dirty little secret? the error rates in criminal verdicts are much, much higher than people imagine. not false negatives (guilty criminals who get a pass), errors we recognize and expect, the predictable result of stacking the deck in the defendant’s favor as we do. nope. the real surprise is the false positives, innocents found guilty. (the error rate we do not acknowledge, since it calls so much into question.)

    what we call proof is every bit as fallible as the witnesses who produce it. human beings are prone to error, memories aren’t reliable, eyewitness identifications even less reliable, even “good cops” with the best intentions prone to inherent failure of judgment and recall.

    the human element in any system is prone to error, but conventional wisdom contends the courts are somehow exempt? nuh-uh. i don’t believe it.

    ignorance, magical thinking, naivete. if you trust “the legal system,” these are your precepts.

    God help the poor souls whose fate, future, very lives fall into this spiderweb system of down, of taking six or twelve complete amateurs off the street and expecting them to get to the truth.

    the Zimmerman trial affirmed much of this to me, but it’s precisely why i keep hearing and reading about how people didn’t expect justice. deep down, most of you, if not all of you, know there is nothing “just” about our criminal justice system.

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When I Worked

July 2013
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