The Court of Public Opinion rules ex parte with no hope of an appeal. It has no rules of evidence or procedure, no requisite standard of proof, no right to confront witnesses, no meaningful ability to present evidence, and no appellate review. Yet, its ruling is immediate and often final.
It happens everyday: a newsworthy accusation is made and, within that same news cycle, the Court of Public Opinion rules. A guilty verdict is rendered and the accused’s sentence is executed, months (sometimes years) before the legal process adjudicates their case. Their once good name is forever gone.
Our system of justice is premised on the sacred principle that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, for that to have any real meaning, the Court of Public Opinion must stop rendering its verdict upon first sight. It must wait.
I offer two reasons:
1. Innocent people are sometimes falsely accused (and even convicted). An accusation, even a newsworthy accusation, is nothing more than an accusation. There is always more to the story, even with police reports. Before the Court of Public Opinion convicts—to be fair to all involved—we should wait until our justice system sorts out fact from fiction.
2. Respect for the justice system. When the Court of Public Opinion rules, it’s nearly impossible to overturn. So when it’s verdict is inconsistent with the justice system, it breeds contempt for it.
If the justice system gets it wrong, then we should fix it. But let’s not set the justice system up for failure by rendering a verdict before it hears the case.
We have all served as jurors on the Court of Public Opinion. And, when doing so, we have all prematurely convicted. We know better, but we still do it.
It’s hard not to take sides. I just ask that we try. I think we would be better for it.