For starters, it’s awfully difficult to say “guilty” – to me, anyway – when the defense in the case hasn’t even presented their argument or evidence. Compared to a basketball game, it’s like the home team being ahead 55-40 at the half. It LOOKS like the home team will win. But they play two halves. And there’s still time left on the clock. And anything can happen. So you play out the final half and you see who wins.
To me, 4 hours away in Baltimore, it sure LOOKS like George Huguely is guilty. But the game isn’t over yet and we’ll have to see what the scoreboard looks like when the clock reaches 00:00. And to further complicate things, I’m not sure what, exactly, he’s guilty of, since finding someone guilty of murder in Virginia is different than finding someone guilty of murder in South Carolina or Kansas or Arizona. But LOOKING like he’s guilty and being found guilty are two different things. And until the jury sends that slip of paper back that reads “We find the defendant GUILTY”, he isn’t guilty.
And that has nothing at all to do with public perception. Public perception had those kids at Duke labeled as racist criminal-punks. They might have very well have been racists. And punks. But they weren’t rapists. The first two charges make them bad people, but not criminals.
So I can keep on saying things like “it LOOKS like Huguely is guilty” or “based on what I’ve seen thus far, it APPEARS as if he’s guilty” but until all the evidence is in and we can all make a full and final assessment, nothing is etched in stone. Not to me, anyway. And not to the men who created the Bill of Rights. They didn’t create an Amendment that reads, “At any point during a trial, you can make your decision as a juror, even without all the evidence having been presented to you.”
The court of public perception might have Huguely guilty without the man’s trial being complete, but the court our nation’s founding fathers created says otherwise.
I know firsthand what it’s like to be found guilty in the court of public perception. It happened to me, Glenn Clark and Nestor Aparicio last spring when we were sued by Jen Royle. Lots of people around town jumped on the internet and proclaimed us guilty. Gobs of wanna-be attorneys said, “I read the charges and the court documents and those guys are in big trouble for what they did.” Various sports and news message boards had the three of us pegged as GUILTY without ever hearing one piece of evidence from us or one contradiction from our side. You know the story by now. Jen Royle dropped the case, abruptly, robbing us of our chance to defend ourselves in a court of law and denying the three of us an opportunity to remind everyone who previously found us guilty that they should stick to driving a truck or being an accountant or doing whatever it is that they do for a living and leave the legal stuff to people who do that for a living.
I know all about public perception. It found me guilty of something that I didn’t do.
There are lots of teachable moments in this George Huguely-Yeardley Love story. There’s no need for me to go into them here. A) You don’t want to be preached to, and B) You already know what they are.
But the one thing to always remember in a situation like the one in Charlottesville is this: Rarely is anything precisely as it seems at face value. Look deeper and you’ll find more details worth considering. Take a moment to carefully review everything that transpired and then give that information the weight it deserves.
That’s what the jury will be doing sometime next week when the court hands them the case and asks them to determine the fate of George Huguely.