“Remember he is innocent until proven guilty” the elderly gentleman sitting at the corner table next to the lamp with the brass flowers on the lampshade was reacting to something another customer had said from the next table, the one under the brightly coloured fabric display. The conversation had moved from Oscar Pistorious to Shrien Dewani; the admonishment could have applied to either, opinion in the coffee shop having found both suspects guilty.
“Not really” ventured the waiter “Someone is guilty the moment they commit a crime. There is a legal presumption of innocence but that is to ensure a fair trial, it does not make the person innocent”.
“Yes” said the corner gentleman “And we should afford him the some presumption until the judge’s gavel sounds the verdict”.
Something didn’t sit right with this last statement and I thought about it for a bit. I could understand where the corner gentleman was coming from, warning about jumping to hasty conclusions and of the danger of trials by media. So what was it that didn’t sit right ? I pondered for a while and then a little inner voice asked me “What about the Hurricane ?”.
And that was it, that was the reason to disagree with the corner gentleman’s warning against speculating about guilt or innocence, because sometimes speculation and public opinion can get things spot-on which courts get horribly wrong. Not only Hurricane Carter, many other wrongly convicted people have public opinion to thank for their eventual release.
And what is good for the innocent is good for the guilty, surely, and thus if the court of public opinion is an important cog in the justice machine then, I put it to you, we can continue to speculate and talk, mull over evidence, and play prosecutor and defence team, to object and be sustained.