Best-selling author John Foxjohn epitomizes the phrase “been there—done that.” Born and raised in the rural East Texas town of Nacogdoches, he quit high school and joined the Army at seventeen. Viet Nam veteran, Army Airborne Ranger, policeman and homicide detective, retired teacher and coach, now he is a multi-published author.
Courtrooms should be a place for justice—unvarnished, unbiased, and without outside influences or prejudice. For some reason when the word prejudice is thrown out, some people automatically think of race. In fact, the word means so much more. Besides discrimination, it can mean intolerance, injustice, or unfairness.
And the latter meaning of prejudice really has more meaning when it comes to justice than just discrimination. After all, discrimination can occur against more than just race. If justice is fair or tolerant, then no one would need to worry much about discrimination.
The symbol of justice is the scales because it is supposed to be balanced for both sides.
Both sides should have a fair judge to insure that they abide by the laws set forth, and the laws are based on fairness.
Both sides are supposed to have equal access to all evidence no matter which side possesses it.
And both sides should have an equal opportunity to choose people to hear the evidence. This is the reason the courts have automatic strikes for cause and the reason both sides have the same number of challenges.
In theory, our system should never sway from being fair, tolerant, and without the presence of narrow-mindedness or discrimination. The problem with theories and justice is the courts and juries are made up of people who are inherently imperfect, and there is not a single thing we or anyone else can do about that.
The system could weed out most people who fall into these categories if they were the only problems. Unfortunately, the influence on the people in the court system—especially jurors—comes from television and movies, and is exacerbated by those imperfect people in the system who want to use it to their advantage.
Defense attorneys love CSI shows and prosecutors hate them—depending on their point of reference. If the prosecution doesn’t have any then the defense holds it over their heads, and if they do, the defense condemns it as junk science.
Of course if the prosecutors have it they taunt it, and if they don’t, they downplay it.
However, the biggest misconception influenced by TV and movies and engorged by attorneys is circumstantial evidence. After someone has watched a few courtroom movies, and listened to defense attorneys, they can almost see the slime dripping off the word “circumstantial.” Because of this influence, jurors know going in that this “circumstantial evidence” isn’t any good. How can they convict someone—let alone send them to prison for the rest of their lives or to death row on “circumstantial evidence”?
This is what actual jurors have said before and after trials.
What most people don’t know is there are two types of evidence present at a trial—direct and indirect evidence.
Direct evidence supports the truth without the need for any other evidence or inference. This is what most people think of as the good evidence.
Because of influences, most people don’t really know what circumstantial evidence is. It is indirect evidence, or evidence that relies on an inference [assumption] to connect the evidence to a conclusion. The definition of circumstantial evidence doesn’t even sound good—no wonder TV and defense attorneys have no problem making the public think it is bad.
Let’s say you are sitting at home and you hear a shot from your next door neighbors. You call the police and a car is right there in the vicinity. They stop a man who ran out of your neighbor’s house with a gun.
The police check the house and find a dead woman. She’s nude and has been shot in the chest. In the course of the investigation, they discover that the man they stopped with the gun left his prints inside the house, but he doesn’t live there.
The gun he had in his possession was without a doubt the one used to kill the woman. He also has a lot of gunpowder residue on his hands and clothes, and without a doubt he’d recently fired a gun.
He also had the woman’s checkbook and credit cards in his pocket when the police stopped him.
Besides that, he has scratch marks on his face and the victim has his blood and DNA under her fingernails.
She’s been raped and they find his semen with his DNA.
All of this evidence is indisputable. Upon hearing this would you believe him guilty?
Most people would, but what they don’t realize is that there is not a single ounce of direct evidence there—every bit of it is circumstantial evidence.
Why isn’t there any direct evidence? There was no one else inside the house with the two of them.
The neighbor can testify to hearing the shot but nothing else. The police can testify that he ran out of the house but not what he did inside it.
What tells us what went on inside the house: fingerprints, DNA, ballistics, gunshot residue, all of that is circumstantial evidence.
In truth, in many cases, circumstantial evidence is better than direct evidence. If you don’t know what it is—it’s eyewitness testimony.
Over the last ten years, literally hundreds of people have been released from prison or death row—people put there for the most part by eyewitness testimony, and released because of circumstantial evidence.
Yes, someone looked at the evidence and drew an inference that the person couldn’t have done it because it wasn’t his DNA at the crime scene.