By Matt Rooney
It’s been quite a start to the week for criminal justice news, Save Jerseyans, with Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation ending with a whimper and a LOT of embarrassment on Monday and then, on Tuesday, 16 separate charges against Empire actor Jussie Smollett being dropped by Chicago prosecutors.
The comparisons between the Trump and Smollett cases are unavoidable for a host of patently obvious reasons. Here’s what the media (and social media) are missing:
Prosecutors are extremely powerful in the American justice system. They routinely decide when to bring charges, when NOT to bring charges (e.g. when there is no evidence, as Mueller found regarding Trump and Russia, or simply “reasonable doubt” defined as there is a reasonable chance that the Defendant did not commit the crime), and when initially pursued charges are insufficiently support by evidence to gain a conviction at trial (e.g. “obstruction” in the Trump context).
In the Trump/Mueller case? The Special Counsel found (1) no evidence whatsoever concerning ‘collusion’ and, (2) at most, insufficient evidence of obstruction of justice. We won’t know how much evidence he found, if any, without release of the full report (which disappointed Democrats are angrily demanding).
The Smollett case is different at least at first blush.
According to TMZ, the office of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx released a statement concluding that, “After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.”
That’s a broad, broad statement. Probably purposefully so.
Was it a lack of evidence (they mentioned a review of “the facts”)? Or the prosecutor’s decision that Smollett’s value to the community warranted cutting him a break independent of where the evidence pointed? Both?
We don’t know. Maybe we never will. The Chicago police are allegedly furious; I wouldn’t be surprised since, given the waste of public resources which arise from allegedly fake criminal complaints, prosecutors are usually eager to prosecute offenders. It’s NOT untrue that prosecutors sometimes show mercy based on the totality of the circumstances notwithstanding clear evidence of guilt. They do NOT, however, routinely drop 16 felony charges because the defendant is a good/generous/community-oriented guy or gal.
To be continued.
I have my opinions. You do, too. That’s not the point.
What I hope? Regardless of how you feel about Trump and Russia or Smollett and his allegations?
This week’s dramatic developments in both cases will chasten a few bad actors and teach at least SOME media types and average news consumers to be a little more restrained and cautious with confusing the standards and practices of our social media-fueled court of public opinion with the actual dictates of our time-tested justice system.
Said another way: shut the $&%* up, breathe, and thing before reacting to the people who are TRYING to get you to react!
Mass hysteria (like we saw with Mueller’s investigation) and overt politicization of insular criminal cases (here’s looking at you, Cory Booker) are unhelpful. Damaging. A clear and present danger to the fabric of our republic and the institutions which keep it together. Unfortunately, these knee-jerk tribalist and mob mentality tendencies embedded in our culture only serve to empower irresponsible politicians and celebrities.
If you recognize that problem? And I don’t know how you can miss it! Act. Start by stopping letting them lead you around by the nose (or the tweet). The media and tribalism types WANT your anger. They need your anger. It drives clicks and agendas and cash. Be self-animated. Push back against anyone attempting to pressure you or manipulate you. Read more and LOOK less. Watch less 24/7 news, too. Spend more time educating yourself on the process. Think for yourself. Put something down, walk away, talk it over with a friend and think it over with the benefit of a quite moment (or several) before sharing your snap amateur judgment with the world.
Follow my advice and we might just manage to keep this country for a bit longer AND avoid annoying, wall-to-wall coverage of half-baked investigations for months on end. That last part would be a blessing in of itself come what may for America.
MATT ROONEY is a practicing New Jersey attorney, regular panelist on Chasing News with Bill Spadea, and the founder and blogger-in-chief of Save Jersey.