'Mad Dog' Sneddon Vs. Michael Jackson
Dan Abrams, MSNBC's top lawyer, assured the Jackson jurors that they had returned the right verdict. On the law, they were beyond reproach. He then proceeded to ream them out: "what do you think Michael Jackson was doing in bed with these kids? What would you do if a man in your neighborhood did the same (which is?)? Wouldn't you call the cops? Confess to being star-struck!
The jurors had dared to apply the law to the facts of the case; they refused to convict Jackson based on assumptions and inferences. And that enraged the chattering class—from jurists to journalists, from politicians to pundits. Even more preposterous—so preposterous it elicited unflattering comparisons to OJ's enablers—"the jurors failed to 'get past' the testimony of the accuser's mother and … convict Jackson." In other words, the jury had the temerity to toss the testimony of a professional grifter and a liar. In so doing, they admirably fulfilled what remains of the institution's mandate: jurors are not supposed to "get past" the testimony of a swindler—or a family of them, for that matter.
In the majestic tradition of Anglo-Saxon law, juries were once trusted to forestall government tyranny. Thomas Jefferson considered "trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." Lamentably, the Founders' Blackstonian view of the jury as a bulwark against government abuses has been supplanted by the notion of the law as an implement of government, to be utilized by all-knowing rulers for the "greater good."
Such Benthamism has allowed zealous prosecutors (and their graceless handmaidens) to discard a defendant's rights. Thomas Sneddon's nickname says a lot about the Santa Barbara DA's métier and mood. And "Mad Dog" definitely breached his prosecutorial obligations. Of his "Rights Of Englishmen" (due process, habeas corpus, the right to counsel; no crime without intent, no self incrimination, no retroactive law), Jackson was most egregiously deprived of a prosecutor who pursues truth and justice; tries the defendant in the courtroom, not in the media (as Sneddon did), makes sure there is strong evidence against the defendant before indicting him (Sneddon didn't); refrains from bringing the full power of government against an individual citizen, and avoids piling on charges as a means of gaining a conviction (ditto).
The DA kicked off the proceedings by depriving Jackson of a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing compels the prosecution to lay out the evidence—the basis of its case, if you will—to the satisfaction of a judge. "In California, prosecutors may initiate a criminal action either by filing a complaint, or by obtaining a grand jury indictment," explains FindLaw's Jonna M Spilbor. "The overwhelming majority of felony cases in California are done by complaint." But once a grand jury indictment is filed, the defendant loses his right to a preliminary hearing, and, with it, the opportunity to prepare for trial.
Glaring discrepancies exist between the initial felony complaint and the indictment, chief of which is that the conspiracy count is conspicuously absent from the complaint. Was the count that carried the stiffest sentence conjured in the process of throwing at Jackson everything but the kitchen sink? Was conspiracy a "clever" prosecutorial afterthought? Or did the "complaining witnesses" suddenly "recall" they had been abducted and imprisoned at Neverland?
All of the above, it would seem. The accuser's mother, the key witness in the state's case, "remembered" late in the game that the family had been imprisoned in Neverland. Pesky things that they are, the facts, however, indicate that her kidnapping and "coerced confinement" included a trip to a beauty parlor, where she was depilated of bodily bristles; dental appointments, shopping sprees, and dinners out—all on Jackson's dime. By admitting this woman's testimony, Sneddon, then, suborned perjury. As to sonny's incarceration: the accuser testified he didn't want to leave, "Because I was having lots of fun."
Furthermore, the nature of the conspiracy must, by law, be described in the indictment (it isn't) and the co-conspirators named (they aren't). "Defendants need to know who they supposedly conspired with, and what they supposedly conspired to do—and to know it when the indictment is issued, not later," noted FindLaw's Jonna M. Spilbor.
Last I looked, Ex post facto law was unconstitutional. But with Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville's blessing, a law was passed to allow Sneddon to parade Jackson's prior accusers into court. By admitting into evidence prior alleged acts committed by Jackson—acts never proven in a court of law—Sneddon hoped to demonstrate "Jackson's pattern of behavior." But, as FindLaw's Julie Hilden warned, "Evidence of prior criminal behavior that does not result in a conviction is a classic example of prejudicial evidence." Indeed, that Jackson paid off an accuser is no proof of his guilt, yet it was treated as such. Absent convictions, these charges ought to have been ruled inadmissible. In any case, who's to say that the housemaids (sons in tow) who mulcted Jackson of millions were not flaunting their preferred "pattern of behavior": extortion?
When it comes to popular and popularizing crusades like child sexual abuse, contemporary America has sustained the spirit of 1692 Salem. Merely accusing someone of sexually abusing a child is enough to strip him of his rights. And convictions can be obtained with no proof or evidence of guilt other than the word of the accuser. Thus it mattered not that the evidence in Jackson's case consisted solely of the say-so of a family of transients and tramps: the accuser's mother—and coach—is a felon in her own right. From welfare fraud she graduated to extortion, chiseling JCPenny of $150,000 for alleged… sex abuse (they paid. Does that mean they're guilty?). If a history of criminality was not sufficient to render Mrs. Arivizo unfit to testify in a court of law, the odd ideation she exhibited ought to have done the trick: Arivizo testified Jackson was going to eliminate her family by dispatching them in a hot air balloon!
Described as really smart and cunning, Arivizo's five-foot-seven, hirsute "child" (the accuser) was every bit as acquisitive (a shoplifter) and imaginative (a liar) as mom. He and his brother had helped buttress their mother's assorted bilking schemes. Or as a wise juror put it, the lad lied habitually because that's all he knew. That Jackson plied him with "Jesus Juice," and licked his forehead is something only the shakedown clan witnessed. The alleged molestation occurred, if to go by tiny's timeline, after Martin Bashir's devastating exposé ("Living with Michael Jackson") aired, and while the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services was searching Neverland, sicced on Jackson by busybody, Gloria Allred. A subsequent raid (carried out by 75 lawmen!) on Jackson's home produced some legal porn, proving only that, as weird as he is, Jackson's carnality, at least, is shared by millions of Americans.
Expecting a prosecutorial touchdown, Countdown With Keith Olbermann aired a rather cruel segment called "Prepping for the Pokey," in which Olbermann pondered how Jackson would fit his prosthetic proboscis in jail. The only man (Jon Stewart disappointed) to have distinguished himself from the pack was Geraldo Rivera. The Fox News reporter conceded Jackson's conduct was creepy and said as much (as did I). But he understood that creepy is not necessarily criminal. Hooray for Geraldo.
And hooray for the twelve wise men and women who stood between Michael Jackson and a parlous prosecutor.
©2005 Ilana Mercer