The Wiki Leaks Effect on Juries

December 16, 2011

I watched a video parody of a MasterCard style commercial for Wiki Leaks the other day.  It got me thinking about the imbalance of the information flow that exists in our country today and in the world as well.  First, I will acknowledge that Wiki Leaks is a difficult subject to discuss for many reasons.  Some people think they betrayed the United States by divulging classified information.  Some think they are Patriots that have exposed corrupt governments around the world.  Regardless of your thinking on Wiki Leaks, it's obvious that they have created a conversation within our society that is worthy of having. And the leaks have changed the equation when it comes to the comfort level of governmental secrecy.

Our founding fathers were adamant that we have an open, accessible, and fair government.  They insisted on it from themselves and from those they chose to lead them through the early founding of our nation.  Our leaders were fed up with the idea of a Crown and had dedicated their lives to changing that paradigm. Yet, today, it seems - correctly or incorrectly - that citizens are left more in the dark than ever before.  This may be partially explainable that we live in times our fore fathers could not even fathom.  I'm sure none of them ever imagined information flows like we have today. But, to chalk up the government's information hiding and misinformation simply as we live in complex times is not only disingenuous, it's dangerous.

We citizens have the right to be ruled by trustworthy and honest people.  It's only when we have confidence in our leadership that we can live our lives most productively and at peace with our daily activities.  Misinformation and outright lies from government leaders and agencies breeds discontent and distrust in all of us.  Few areas where we see misinformation, hiding of evidence and outright lies are more in the public arena than that of our Criminal Justice system.

For one example we can look at the current state of Drunk Driving Law.  DWI sobriety tests are inherently flawed, and the most skilled DUI / DWI defense attorneys believe the government knew it at the time the tests were created and sanctioned by the government.  Why else was all of the original raw research data buried or lost?  Why weren't these tests peer reviewed as is done in every other field of science?  When law enforcement pulls a veil of secrecy over so-called scientific studies there should always be cause for alarm.

Most of us realize the drug war was lost years ago. Rather than acknowledge that fact and create meaningful and reasonable legislation that regulates marijuana growth for all kinds of industrial and household products and uses, the government denies the overwhelming evidence of its benefits in favor of outright distortions of the truth.  As citizens of the United States we have an obligation to follow the laws created by our leaders.  But, also as citizens we have the obligation to challenge our leaders when their actions are seemingly inconsistent with the knowledge we possess from other sources.

The Arab Spring that the world witnessed earlier this year was a game changer for the entire world population.  Governments that had abused, repressed and lied to their people were thrown out of power.  We still cannot say with certainty what types of governments will replace these old regimes.  It is naive to think that if our government treats us with the disrepsect and disregard that it has for the past many years that our people will not rise up in some form, at least at the polls.  How far do they think we will be pushed before we replace our leadership with people who will listen and respond to our voices.  Don't get me wrong - I am not saying that the US government is in jeopardy of being overthrown if they don't legalize marijuana.  I'm saying that our leaders are going to have a harder time hiding the truth than ever before. They will find more difficulty convicting people with juries that are tired of hearing government lies and misinformation.  

Juries are usually intelligent citizens that take their obligations seriously.  There was a time when a police officer could walk into a courtroom and the jury believed his testimony more readily than it believed the testimony of ordinary citizens and witnesses.  This is a violation of the rules of our courts and I think those days are beginning to pass.  Everyone's testimony should be based on their character, not their profession.  Many lawyers report an increase in jury nullification - a process whereby the jury will acquit rather than enforce draconian laws.  I lay the blame for that trend at the feet of the government.  When people begin to distrust the government, they will be a lot less likely to convict it's citizens and send them to jail.  Regardless of the evidence the State presents at trial, juries will not find it credible when they are made aware of an environment of distortion in the courtrooms.  

Thanks in large part to aggressive defense attorneys, aided by the internet and social networking sites, more citizens are seeing the government misinformation and lies for what they are.  Social sites, websites, and relentless exposure of government misinformation is making a strong impact on the criminal courtrooms because it changes the imbalance in the flow of information so that ordinary citizens can see the bigger picture.  After all we need a slightly level playing field to ensure the trust of the citizens. Slightly because the courtroom should always be slanted in the favor of the citizen accused!