Am I the only guy in America who's upset because we keep putting people on trial TWICE?
We did it with the Rodney King police officers.
We did it with O.J.
We did it with this guy Lemrick Nelson, who's accused of starting the Crown Heights riots.
I know the explanation. There's a technical legal explanation. And it goes like this: ``Well, the first time we tried him, we were trying him for murder. The second time, we were putting him on trial for a completely different crime--a civil rights violation, or a civil case to get money for the victim's family.''
I don't think it even bothers anybody that it's not that uncommon anymore to be found INNOCENT of a crime, but then still have to pay the VICTIMS of the crime you were accused of but never did.
This whole system we have now is double jeopardy. You can call it whatever you want, and I'm sure the courts have drawn up very nice distinctions that justify it, but it's double jeopardy for two reasons:
1. Both trials are based on the same evidence and the same incident. This was true in the case of the Rodney King officers, O.J., and Lemrick Nelson.
2. If authorities nail the guy on a murder rap in the criminal trial and he ends up in Leavenworth, they don't BOTHER with the second trial. In other words, it's only used when they want to ``take another shot.''
In America, you're not supposed to get another shot. For one thing, the defendant is ALWAYS gonna do worse in a second trial, because he loses the element of surprise. Anything he said in the first trial can be used against him in the second one.
At the very least, we should try all these charges in the same courtroom and at the same time. The government shouldn't be able to hold cases "in reserve'' so that, if they mess up the first time, they can start building their secret "other'' case.
The original purpose of the civil rights laws, which are often used in cases like this, was not to try people for murder who had already been tried for murder. And, in fact, they were narrowly directed at people who acted ``under color of law''--primarily police officers who abused people and caused a death, or people IMPERSONATING police officers.
Which one was Lemrick Nelson? He may or may not have yelled, "Kill the Jews''--one jury has already decided he didn't--but he CERTAINLY didn't yell: "In the name of the law, kill the Jews!'' He wasn't wearing a uniform. I don't think anyone remotely close to the riots thought the inciter was a cop, or claimed to be a cop. So how much perversion of the original law did they have to do to even BRING civil rights charges against a civilian?
We should be upset when people go to trial twice for the same crime. We should be especially upset when it becomes a routine way to "appeal'' an innocent verdict.
This is the third time I've written about this, and as far as I can tell, I'm still a minority of one.
And another thing...
People who hate you--and then suddenly decide they love you--give me the willies.
Why does this happen to me all the time?
I get these letters that start off: "When I first read your columns, I thought you were the sorriest redneck jerk scumdog that ever crawled out of a Texas wormhole. Then when I saw you on TV I was appalled by your stereotypical sexist attitude and your common-denominator, lowbrow recycled opinions.
"It wasn't until I saw your lecture at the 96th Street Y that I realized what a genius of political satire you are. Could I have an autographed photo?"
I mean, isn't there something between "redneck jerk scumdog" and "satirical genius"? Isn't there someplace in the MIDDLE where I'm sorta just a "journalist" or a "TV Host"?
I've had people who actually worked to get me FIREDFROMJOBS who, two years later, tell me what fans they are. What am I supposed to say to 'em? "Oh, thank you for that 5,000-postcard mailing entitled 'KILLJOEBOB.' I see now that it was a necessary stage in your personal development."
In fact, I'm always a little scared by these born-again fans, because they always want me to know just exactly how much they hated me before they saw the light.
"My boyfriend always forced me to watch your show, and I thought you were such a pig. But when we broke up, I found myself still watching. Are you single?"
I know it can work in reverse, too. You can start out having somebody who likes you, only to forget to answer their letter or make fun of some sacred symbol in their life, and all of a sudden they decide you're a Nazi war criminal.
"I used to think your stuff was funny, but the recent piece about midgets went too far. Why don't you stick to something you know about, like grade-Z movies?"
But at least these people are understandable. You did something specific to make 'em made. The born-again fans are so dotty that you're in constant fear that you'll say something that'll turn 'em against you again, and this time they'll be packing a weapon.
Then there's a third type of person. The person who used to hate you, now likes you, but wants to make sure you have the right opinions. They'll come up to you in a bookstore and say, "When you make fun of the women's movement that's like, satire, right?"
And they kinda want you to confess not meaning what you say. In this respect I sympathize with Johnnie Cochran. Everywhere Johnnie goes, people come up to him, trying to say that he really believes O.J. is guilty, but he had to act like he didn't so he could get him off. But Johnnie won't do it. And good for him. He'd be a sorry lawyer if he did.
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And I'd be a sorry writer if I went around going wink-wink every time I made a joke. People who say "Only kidding!" all the time are WIMPS.
I'm always kidding, and I'm never kidding. If you don't know what I mean by that, then you just don't get it. Think of me as a scumdog. After all, it's the first step toward thinking of me as a satirical genius.
1997 Joe Bob Briggs (Distributed by NYT Special Features)
(To discuss the meaning of life with Joe Bob, write Joe Bob Briggs, P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221 or fax him at 213-462- 5982. Joe Bob even hangs out on the Internet: email@example.com).