As I write this year’s Halloween Attorney Sam’s Take, I know that goblins, vampires and politicians are roaming around outside circling the streets of Salem, Boston and environs. Of course, as I’ve noted several times, that is not terribly new; it has been going on since October 1st! I had thought of dressing up in costume tonight to scare people as well. Then, I realized that it would be redundant…I’m a lawyer. People already avoid us like the plague.
Last year, I wrote a Halloween blog about the question of witch hunts. We entertained the question of whether or not they were really a thing of the past. We came to the conclusion that they were not. Only the names and faces of the targets have changed.
I don’t see any reason to believe that this has changed much over the year. I do think, however, that we have been provided with a good example of how today’s “witches” can finally redeem themselves.
As I was growing up, and then again later when I was in law school, the late Michael Jackson was a beloved superstar. His talents, whether with his brothers or without them, were many and his following was enormous. There have been many public figures in our history who caught our hearts, became beloved and then, finally, were reviled. Granted, Michael seemed to lead the charge in his own publicity downfall. But he did follow the same familiar path. After ensuring himself legendary status, releasing the albums Thriller and Bad, his behavior seemed to become more and more…unusual. As he continued to release masterpieces we heard tales of bidding on the remains of the Elephant Man, sleeping in an oxygen tank and bleaching his skin. Then there was Neverland, kids and sleep-overs. Soon enough, there were blackmail threats and, finally, the criminal prosecution for sex crimes against children. Those of us who were not convinced of his guilt had to admit that simply labeling Michael as “strange” was like calling Hell “tepid”
As reflected in a recent Us Weekly Magazine article, I became a regular on the Fox News Channel as a legal expert during the trial. While I have now appeared in a similar capacity on several television, radio and print publications, on many different topics, it would appear that Michael and I are, somehow linked. When something happens with Michael, or his remains, I am asked to comment. At times, I reflect on the years of watching with interest and, I must confess, sometimes amusement, as my contemporary (we were the same age) rose higher and higher and then fell lower and lower.
And then he died.
During the actual witch trials the populous and prosecutors had intriguing ways of determining guilt or innocence. Generally, this included tests like holding the accused under water for a long time. If the suspect lived, he or she was a witch. If they died, they were innocent. Unlike today, the test was considered foolproof, so a determination of innocence was actually believed. The late defendants did not suffer the more modern second-guessing of such a verdict.” No, in these cases, innocent was innocent.
Today, to most people, an acquittal simply means that the most-likely guilty defendant merely got away with the crime. However, even today, there seems to be one path for the forever-branded defendant, especially when a public figure, to gain salvation, forgiveness and, sometimes even newly found innocence.
This path, as in the days of old, is death.
Until his death, Michael Jackson, although never convicted of anything, was regarded as an oddity, an outcast and a pedophile Once he was dead, he was not only labeled as simply “misunderstood”, but people began falling over themselves to blame everybody else for the previous accusations and cruelty. Now that his death is being ruled a homicide, he may just make it to sainthood.
No, Michael Jackson is not really the subject matter of this year’s Halloween blog posting. He is merely a perfect example of how far we have not come.
As I have stated many times in this daily blog, while the American justice system proclaims that a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, he or she is usually assumed guilty by most people. Such labeling does not simply disappear if there is an acquittal. While the accused may not receive the penalties prescribed by law of their alleged misdeeds, they are usually treated with suspicion and will never be made whole for their time awaiting trial, often incarcerated, not to mention the loss of money and, in many cases, their family. However, as we love to rewrite history, the accused is often finally forgiven, again beloved and sometimes even exonerated when claimed by death. Of course, by then, unless there are truly zombies and ghosts among us, it is usually too late to do the former defendant any good.
So what does this have to do with you?
I ask only that you think about these issues when you hear about people who are accused of crimes. I have had many clients who believe that criminal allegations can only be made against someone else, someone much less deserving of empathy than themselves. This changes when the finger of accusation suddenly is pointed at them or a loved one. Suddenly, things are not as they assumed and they are shocked to learn the realities of being a criminal defendant. What used to be “only right” is now unjustifiably unfair.
I also suggest that you be aware of the reality for your own sake. Do not assume that you are untouchable. I have posted many blogs over the past year which reflected people who felt that they could never be accused of a crime, sometimes because they actually didn’t commit a crime, but who suddenly found themselves needing an experienced criminal defense attorney. Unfortunately, it is sometimes too late to make maximum use of such an attorney.
The advice of this blog is basically the same message that I have often repeated. Do not wait until the indictment comes. Do not willingly enter a trap from which death may be the only equalizer. If you believe that you might be investigated or accused of a crime, act immediately to protect yourself. The best way to do this is to engage an experienced criminal defense attorney to investigate what is going on, advise you as to your rights and, if necessary, defend you in your attempt to enforce those rights. Should you desire that lawyer to be me, please feel free to call me at (617) 206-1942.
In the meantime, have a happy, safe and law-abiding Halloween!