Some time ago, a certain former pro football player was put on trial for murdering a couple people. Actually, the story began before that; most folks that were around back then remember watching a white Ford Bronco try to elude police in real time. Pretty much everyone I talked to at the time was all abuzz about it, and most of them were certain a murder conviction would swiftly follow what they considered such an obvious escape attempt.
I was not so sure. Television wasn’t really my thing at the time, but I couldn’t avoid this news unless I completely eschewed human contact for a few months. So I kept up on the story, much to my chagrin; and it played out just as I had expected. This shocked a lot of people I knew at the time, while not surprising me in the slightest.
As far back as I can remember, I have been a big fan of withholding judgement until I had all the facts. Since all the facts can’t really be established if I am not there to witness an event, I always did and still do maintain that I could never condemn someone to pay for a crime unless I had seen them commit it. That may make me a poor candidate for jury duty, as I was able to establish the one time I almost served; but it helps me keep an open mind, refusing to accept the conclusions of others as my own. No matter what the evidence says, I am fully aware that evidence can be falsified. I also know human memory is extremely unreliable, which means some people can lie without even realizing they’re lying. Knowing this, and lacking firsthand observation, I have to take what others say with a grain of salt.
I’m not saying O.J. Simpson did or didn’t kill anyone; I’m saying I don’t know, and I couldn’t possibly be certain without seeing it happen. However, that was not the point of my assertion when all this went down. I knew plenty of people didn’t mind sending someone to prison based on the way the case was presented to them, and that some folks existed out there who didn’t mind sending an innocent man to jail for a crime he did not commit. I also knew something else, and it made me certain from the moment that car chase began that the accused was going to get off.
Even in my early twenties, I knew the legal system in America was for sale. The reason we had so many innocent people in prison, even back then, was because they just didn’t have the funds to get a decent lawyer. When they got assigned a public defender, the accused would often be presented with a choice: admit to the crime they didn’t commit, and get a shorter sentence; or fight a battle they couldn’t win, and go to prison for even longer. Back then, a lack of education and funding was a big part of this problem; it still is today, but the problem is compounded by the privatization of prisons.
None of this had anything to do with the famous trial I am referring to, and that’s why I knew a conviction would never be delivered. We were talking about a sports icon, with plenty of resources. I told everyone I knew that was following the case that it was a waste of time; I could tell them the outcome before that initial car chase was even over. As long as they didn’t freeze his assets, a guy with that much money could almost certainly get away with murder. My friends and family were shocked at my callousness; and I was surprised by their naiveté.
Again, I don’t know if he was guilty or not; but I do know what money can buy you in this country, if you have enough of it and know where to spend it. When it comes to our legal system, guilt or innocence doesn’t matter nearly as much as rich or broke does. Everyone was well aware of what the legal system was doing to poor people, even back then; but no one I knew seemed to believe it could work the other way. This case was too public, they said; and the evidence too overwhelming.
If this happened today, I imagine a lot less people would be surprised. Too many things have gone from subtly spooky to blatantly frightening in the years that have passed, and more folks seem open to the possibility that maybe a lot of the stuff we do in this country is not completely on the up and up. Back then, it was probably not a big shock to any judges or lawyers or career criminals; but nowadays, a trial like that would not be nearly as surprising to the rest of us either. It might be a news item; but it probably wouldn’t have so many Americans glued to their televisions watching every moment of it they could.
The situation hasn’t changed, except to get even worse; but public awareness certainly seems like it has. We may not be doing a lot to revamp the way things are, but more and more people seem aware that many of the systems we rely on are fraught with corruption. Politicians can boast they have the greatest healthcare in the country, and some of the biggest salaries; while their constituents have to choose between a broken system and a rigged one to protect their very lives, with considerably less resources.
Presidents make a few hundred thousand dollars a year; then give speeches after their term has ended, and get paid as much for a couple hours of talking as they received for a year in office. Lobbyists don’t even hide the fact that they are all about bribing people; like those retired commanders in chief, they know the value of a promise in the world of politics. The list goes on, obviously: with every president in recent history taking substantial payments for services rendered under such thinly veiled guises, they have set the example for everyone below them. If public officials aren’t making suckers out of tax payers, other public officials often view them as the sucker.
Some judges take the job to mete out justice, for sure; but they’re just one of the links in the chain that is a trial. If you can’t break them, or bribe them, you just move on to testing the next link. Lots of people make a living from testifying in court cases, and they know the folks paying them probably won’t hire them again if they don’t skew things in their favor. Jury members are only people, in the end; and we all know at this point that people can be paid off at even the highest levels. Why wouldn’t a juror follow the example given by their leaders, and take a little extra on the side to deliver a favorable verdict or prevent an unfavorable one?
On top of all this, most cases never even make it to trial. At some point, someone offers someone else some money…and viola! The case disappears. We can all name quite a few celebrities that paid off their accusers, whether it was to clear a nuisance case or to keep their name out of the tabloids or because they were truly guilty of a crime; and by now, we should all realize that the way to get away with pretty much anything in this country is to have enough cash reserves. Each crime seems to have two numbers attached to it: one is the number of years you’ll spend in jail for a conviction, and the other is the amount you need to pay to remain on the favorable side of prison bars.
We have all heard the phrase ‘if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime’ or something like it. Maybe we need to modify that, with all the evidence we have, to something more like ‘if you don’t have the cents, don’t commit the offense’ or ‘if you don’t have a dime, you’ll be doing time’. I realize these all imply a much smaller payout than most cases see, but I’m trying to keep with the rhyming theme here.
Some people like to point out that O.J. Simpson finally did go to jail; but it wasn’t until his funds had been exhausted by the court system. Whether he killed anyone or not, no one can blame him for trying to keep his freedom; I mean, what’s the point of having money if you can’t spend it? So many people used the same tactics since him, in full view of the public eye, most of us weren’t expecting the bankers who ruined the lives of countless people along with the country’s economy to spend a day in jail. We weren’t at all surprised when they ended up with bonuses in the amounts we usually associate with lottery tickets; they’re the ones in charge of the money, after all. If anyone can buy the legal system, it’s the people in control of everyone’s money.
Karma might catch up to these folks, in the end; but from what we’ve seen, it will take longer for the economy to recover than it will for that bad energy to come home to roost. Innocent citizens still die on death row; and monsters still roam the streets, despite multiple charges being brought against them over the years. Maybe karma takes lifetimes to even things out, or maybe it takes bribes as well; I don’t know about that, but I do know one thing for sure.
Our legal system is for sale!
Thanks for reading!
All the best,