Wed | Aug 23, 2017

An innocent man

Published:Sunday | October 10, 2010 | 10:00 AM
Gordon Robinson
Buju Banton
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Gordon Robinson, Contributor

United States (US) federal prosecutors have done their best to hang Buju Banton out to dry, only to succeed in hanging the jury instead.

Interested onlookers should get a grasp of one abiding legal principle in order to understand fully what's happened at this farce of a trial. The fundamental forensic tenet applicable here is a trite rule laid down from Blackstone's time: "Mout' mek fi chat!"

Secondary on the list of legal fundamentals at play is the criminal law requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It's unnecessary for proof to be offered beyond a shadow of a doubt (which is the oft televised standard for most legal dramas), as the only way to achieve this would be for the jury themselves to witness the crime.

Endless possibilities

Absolute certainty isn't required or nobody would be convicted. Possibilities are endless. Eye-witnesses can be lying. Paranoid defendants might actually be the subject of complicated conspiracies. For example, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, actually believes that the US attacked itself on 9/11. Anything's possible. But, in a criminal court where the presumption of innocence holds sway, once a doubt is raised that would be expected to trouble a reasonable person, the accused must be acquitted. Jurors must be prepared to listen to both sides and keep an open mind. "If it doesn't fit ..."

"Some people stay far away from the door

if there's a chance of it opening up.

They hear a voice in the hall outside

and hope that it just passes by.

Some people live with the fear of a touch

and the anger of having been a fool.

They will not listen to anyone

So nobody tells them a lie."


What have we here? The Gargamel, prompted by a paid US government informant, whose job is as dependent on his production (of drug dealers for prosecution) as a Detroit motor car factory's conveyor belt is on car parts, boasts of his expertise in making international drug deals. If that makes him an international drug dealer, then every Jamaican man is as prolific with the girls as Wilt Chamberlain. Boasting is male Jamaica's favourite pastime and a required course for all prospective graduates from the University of the Dancehall.

Fundamental principle

And another fundamental legal principle (right up there with 'mout' mek fi chat!') is dogs who bark, don't bite. Has anyone ever heard Presi boasting about his work outside of his community development efforts? But a paid informant low on his monthly quota (and a Gargamel challenged to compete) will say anything.

"I know you're only protecting yourself.

I know you're thinking of somebody else.

Someone who hurt you

but I'm not above making up for the love

You've been denying you could ever feel.

I'm not above doing anything

to restore your faith if I can.

Some people see through the eyes of the old

before they ever get a look at the young.

I'm only willing to hear you cry

because I am an innocent man!

An innocent man. Oh yes I am."


Next thing he knows, Buju's taken to the scene of a drug deal, on the informant's pretext that he's to view a boat for sale. Can you conspire to deal in drugs when you don't even know what's going down? Reasonable doubt?

Predicament

Suddenly, on arrival, the fullness of his predicament dawns on him. But, effectively, somebody now 'seh feh!' It's put up or shut up time (or, more appropriately, put your finger where your mouth is time). Peer pressure surrounds him. What's a boastful Gargamel to do? Clueless, he tries to fit in. He even tastes the cocaine (putting his finger ... well, you get the idea). Neither money nor drugs passes to or from him. Suddenly "Boom!" he's in jail - an accused drug don. "Bye bye!" chirps satisfied America. Gotcha!

"Some people say they will never believe

another promise they hear in the dark.

Because they only remember too well

they heard somebody tell them before.

Some people sleep all alone every night

instead of taking a lover to bed.

Some people find that it's easier to hate

than to wait anymore."


Even US law concedes it's impossible to conspire with a paid government informant. It's his job to conspire with you. Two co-defendants have pleaded guilty so clearly, they conspired with each other. But neither has testified that Buju was a co-conspirator. Still, the US government will try again. By then, the co-defendants will be languishing in prison with irresistible motivation to testify against Buju to shorten their stay. They'll remember, 'Mout' mek fi chat!' Buju could've made a deal but elected to fight the forces of evil. Why?

"I know you don't want to hear what I say

I know you're gonna keep turning away

But I've been there and if I can survive

I can keep you alive.

I'm not above going through it again

I've not above being cool for a while

If you're cruel to me I'll understand

Some people run from a possible fight

Some people figure they can never win

And although this is a fight I can lose

the accused is an innocent man.

I am an innocent man

Oh yes, I am!

An innocent man."


Talk-show lawyers had a field day during the trial, pouring scorn on Buju's defence. One US-based Jamaican, hopping from talk show to talk show, repeating himself ad nauseam, confidently predicted a conviction. Not-so-subtly inferring that they could've done better, talk-show lawyers criticised Buju's counsel for his reliance on an entrapment defence. Apparently, over 95 per cent of Federal Court cases with entrapment defences result in convictions. Well, statistics can only comfort statisticians. Although we like to support the underdog and police forces are unpopular worldwide, it's an inconvenient fact that the majority of persons charged in federal courts are guilty. The issue is whether that guilt can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Entrapment

That guilty defendant statistic becomes more acute when entrapment is pleaded, because an entrapment defence usually assumes that the dirty deed was done, making it more difficult for the defendant to wiggle out based on inducement. But, obviously, some entrapment cases involve persons who were never even contemplating criminal activity yet, thanks to the illegal encouragement of paid US government informants, find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why's it so unbelievable that Buju's case falls within that small but significant percentage?

For my part, I was impressed with the performance of David Oscar Markus. He sensitised the jury as to what was to come with his pointed opening statement. He didn't try to deny the undeniable, thus proving himself a very poor candidate for Jamaican prime minister. Markus hit the ground running, catching the jury's attention when they were at their freshest and most attentive, with his first day cross-examination of a federal agent. He succeeded in indelibly imprinting on the jurors' minds that, whatever other errors Buju might have made, he was NOT a drug dealer.

Juries are made up of ordinary people like you and me who understand life's realities. Unlike law professors, jurors don't spend their days burying their heads in law books or trying to sound-bite talk show hosts to death. They want to know what's going on. They require your evidence to be consistent with what you told them it would be. They love simplicity. If Buju is not a drug dealer, then why would he conspire with anybody to deal in drugs? Seriously! And why, if he did, has the prosecution reneged on its promise to bring at least one of the admitted co-conspirators (who were both available) to simply say that Buju was involved? Really!

"Some people hope for a miracle cure.

Some people just accept the world as it is.

But I'm not willing to lay down and die

because I am an innocent man.

I am an innocent man

Oh yes, I am. An innocent man"


As can be gleaned from the quoted lyrics of the legendary Billy Joel, Buju is getting a raw deal in America right now. Maybe he's brought it on himself with a combination of earlier egregious and unnecessary insult to that country's homosexual subculture and an overblown sense of his own invulnerability, which is a regrettable hallmark of our own dancehall subculture. In fact, he won last year's 'Dunce Move of the Year Domino Award' for even contemplating a return to the US.

Despite his own rash stupidity and penchant for saying the wrong thing, he's entitled to a rational assessment of the evidence by broadcast pundits, and not to be convicted in the court of public opinion because he wrote down his telephone number on a napkin. Puh-leeeze!

Peace and Love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Feedback may be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com