Orville Taylor | 'Chucky' Brown down but jury out on jury trials
The verdict is in. Constable Collis 'Chucky' Brown has been convicted on three counts of murder.
I personally do not like the word 'verdict', and it is not because of how clumsily it rolls off the tongue. Rather, given that law is not science and legal truth is not the same as academic truth, the word is often a misnomer. Two Latin words 'verus', meaning 'true', and 'dictum', 'oral speech', combine to produce a word that always divide two set of our most learned of practitioners.
Unlike academic conferences where scientists produce the results of their research and there is consensus on what the data say, I had to ask myself if prosecutor Caroline Hay and defence attorney Vincent Wellesley were participating in the same trial.
According to Hay: "It was a long case. It was well defended in terms of the evidence that the defence had to work with. We, on our side, respect the way in which they presented the defence, considering the strength of the evidence they had to meet." In essence, her view was that the judgment was sound and vindicated her decision to take the case forward.
On the other hand, Wellesley is strangely quoted as saying, "This verdict has sent the wrong message to decent, hard-working policemen and women, and it is going to further demoralise these good and decent police officers of this country, in particular, the police officers in Clarendon."
Just or unjust?
Maybe I missed it, but the message to the police is really not his remit. On the contrary, his statement must be limited as to whether or not he feels that the judgment was just or unjust and, thankfully, he has the right of appeal if there are legal grounds to do so. After all, he knows far more law than the six non-lawyers empanelled to adjudicate Brown's innocence or guilt.
Similarly, Hay's statement was a trifle puzzling. "We think the director's (public prosecutions) decision to prosecute the case in the open was important for the people of Jamaica because the issues are national." However, I imagine that despite the fact that it was something that she wanted to play to the public gallery, the real reason for prosecuting the matter in the first place was simply because she and the DPP were convinced that Brown was guilty and no other reason.
Such is the nature of law. On the one hand, a set of prosecutors put together a collection of legal 'facts' and then pursue the argument that the accused committed some act that breaches some formal legal code passed by the legislature.
In direct opposition, another group of equally brilliant and learned attorneys present another set of truths or another version of the facts. Only in the field of law does one have this chasm. Indeed, if you ask me, it is impossible for both sets of lawyers to be right and either prosecutors are malicious and persecuting innocent people or defence lawyers are lying through their teeth and stifling their consciences so much that it must have died from asphyxiation.
Yet, for me, that is only part of my angst. Knowing how pliable the human mind is and how difficult it is for non-lawyers to grasp legal 'nuances', only the biggest of hypocrites can try to tell me that in the space of a few hours or days, a jury of laymen can become lawmen.
It is not a matter of intelligence or brilliance. Indeed, if this were so, in my opinion, the cadre of lawyers and judges would be much smaller. Rather, it is simply a specific field of study that requires years of learning before being qualified to do the minimum.
In plain language, the most knowledgeable person in any other field is not as good at law as the worst lawyer. This is my very same assertion regarding social work and other behavioural sciences. Thus, one should not leave the destiny of clients in the hands of people who do not have the professional and licensing certification.
Doubtless, therefore, it is obvious that I am not a big fan of jury trials because of this. Worse, we seem to have a confused view in our practice of jurisprudence where acts of violence are concerned.
For the life of me, and maybe it is my fortunate lack of legal training, but can someone explain to me why if a person shoots at an individual, wounds him, and he survives, we cannot trust a jury to determine his guilt? However, if he dies, then the more serious charge of murder must be left to a set of people who understand the law less? Remember, in each scenario, the malice is the same, the act is the same, and only the result of the action differs. There is nothing different about the mens rea of the accused.
For me, if Brown is guilty, then, I do not see any negative message being sent to the hard-working clean majority members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Despite the unscientific 'fact' spewed from the mouth of the expatriate who made an unremarkable cameo appearance in the JCF, most JCF officers want the law to be upheld, and they do not approve of criminal behaviour. Of course, some do, but that is true for so many organisations.
If, however, he is innocent, Wellesley must do what he knows is right. Only if he is unjustly convicted by persons who do not understand the law, it does send a wrong message. What matters to me, though, is that the Jamaican people, unlike so many of our external critics, have taken suspected police officers to court. For me, it makes no difference if he were convicted or freed as other officers were such as Reneto Adams et al some years ago.
Justice is always served when those who we think commit a crime are brought to judgment and a court decides. My silver lining, therefore, is that no one is above the law in Jamaica.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.