Little Fish in a Giant pond

Friday, August 07, 2009

Conflicting Standards of Proof

Like a lot people from Eastern Ontario, I have been following the influence peddling trial of Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brian pretty closely, and I cannot say that the not guilty verdict came as any surprize to me. From the evidence I had read about, I just wasn't convinced that the charges had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
I really enjoyed reading Mayor O'Brien's defense lawyer's interpretation of the verdict, which he called "as strong a vindication of a defendant as you'll ever see in a criminal trial". The defense lawyer is of course absolutely correct, but only because criminal trials do not usually declare the accused to be innocent, they are either "guilty" or "not guilty". As confusing as this might seem, "not guilty" just means that the accused has not been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Just because a judge has some reasonable doubt in his mind about his guilt, does not mean he or she the person to be innocent.
In civil cases, people are determined to be liable or not based on the "preponderence of evidence", which basically translates to "more likely than not". Remember how O.J. managed to escape criminal conviction for the murder of his ex wife and a man named Ron Goldman, but then wound up losing a wrongful death lawsuit to Goldman's family? Well that's one of the reasons for that happening.
But getting back to the case of Mayor O'Brien, I am interested to see how Mayor O'Brien does in that other forum, where the burden of proof is not so strict... I'm talking about of the Supreme Court of Public Opinion. I expect that for some, a not guilty verdict will be enough, and a miscarriage of justice for others. Some I expect will be angry at O'Brien for not putting the city first and resigning so that he can focus on the trial (can't say that I agree with them, but everyone has the right to their opinion). Only time will tell which group outnumbers the other.

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