The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 37.0°F | A Few Clouds

Rhetoric Triumphs over Justice in Trial

Guest Column by Seth Hollar '96

This has been a sad week for America. Who says justice triumphs over all? Who says that nobody is above the justice system? The fact that O. J. Simpson was guilty beyond reasonable doubt is factually indisputable. I am not going to prove it - the lawyers have done that sufficiently well. I will point out that humans are not computers. They are subject to emotions and can often draw illogical conclusions from facts decorated with a cloud of haze.

Catchy phrases like "If it doesn't fit, then you must acquit," and the poetic alliteration, "taking the jurors on a journey toward justice," sound sweet and musical, but are merely contrived to give the jury an uplifting impression of Simpson. Consider the consequences:

A man who has murdered two people is now free, walking the streets. Simpson will probably obtain legal rights to his children. He has abused the justice system by using his money and popularity to put himself above the law.

How did this happen? Our legal system is set up so that citizens play an active role. Had you been called up to serve jury duty for the Simpson trial, however, you would have been ejected because you were a college student representing the radical youth of today. Instead the jurors called to trial are laypeople, everyday people. And these jurors must unanimously agree to convict the defendant. I don't know how intelligent these people are, but I know I wouldn't want them making major decisions affecting my life. Apparently the jurors in the Simpson trial were unable to think logically about the evidence. But why should they be blamed? Their jobs have never demanded that they analyze arguments, determine what is and is not relevant to a case, or intelligently base their decisions on facts. The problem is compounded by the fact that the jurors must listen to and digest the material coming from "expert" hand wavers, such as the attorneys.

Is rhetoric a convincing form of argumentation? The jurors must process more information when lawyers speculate. They must differentiate fact from fiction - essentially making the logical decision process more complicated. It is especially difficult in court when both the defense and the prosecution use rhetoric. "If it doesn't fit, then you must acquit" is funny but not appropriate in a murder trial. Doubting the results of DNA tests, concocting stories of drug cartels, accusing police officers of planting evidence, and referring to the long standing dignity of the defendant during the entire proceedings all represent rhetorical arguments. And they proved effective in the O. J. Simpson trail. But each and every one of the above had no logical relevance to the trial.

I don't call for the beheading of O. J. Simpson. He represents thousands found not guilty by jurors unable to see facts clearly. Simpson's case is more pronounced because the truth was so obvious, and the jury still chose to acquit.

I call for a revamping of today's justice system. Attorneys play too many rhetorical tricks on common jurors. Because of this, more serious criminals roam the streets. Unlike common criminals, the serious criminals have the money to buy hired guns like Johnnie Cochran, who put criminals above the law. Criminals who have money and knowingly use it to avoid justice in the courts are among the most dangerous problem facing this country today.