“Nothing surprises me, but many things disappoint me.”
It’s something I often said while working as a reporter for more than 20 years — and it’s something that remains true today.
So, no, I wasn’t surprised when my daily search for blog fodder unearthed a recent techdirt.com article about the Virginia Supreme Court’s failure to implement new rules that would correct alleged imbalances the Commonwealth’s court system.
But I was definitely disappointed.
As I said, the premise of the article in question is that Virginia’s court system is flawed and willingly operates in such a way that the odds are constantly stacked against defendants. Furthermore, comprehensive policy review and public pressure has done nothing to convince those in charge to change the status quo.
That may all be true. In fact, after spending more than eight years on the cops and courts beat in Fauquier County, I don’t doubt it.
But perhaps the author wouldn’t have painted Virginia’s judicial system with such a broad — and scathing — brush if he’d been sitting with me in Fauquier County Circuit Court a few years ago.
Back then I was covering a case in which a man employed at the Pentagon was facing charges after he allegedly hit a state trooper with his car at the Virginia Gold Cup (or perhaps it was the International Gold Cup) steeple chase races at the Great Meadow Field Events Center in The Plains. The accused, who held some sort of military rank (I believe he was a lieutenant colonel) had supposedly been drinking and engaged in a verbal dispute with the trooper as he was leaving the grounds. When the trooper told him to stop his car, the man allegedly refused and the vehicle knocked the trooper to the ground.
When the case finally made its way to Circuit Court, the accused appeared in his military uniform. Now to me, that was highly unusual and highly questionable. After all, anyone who has ever covered courts knows that defendants in criminal cases can’t be tried in their “jail jumps” because it could potentially prejudice the jury. So why on earth would a defendant in a criminal case be allowed to appear in a military uniform? Couldn’t that also sway a jury, especially while the U.S. was in the midst of a war in the Middle East?
Never mind. That’s a rhetorical question. In my opinion, it did. In my opinion, this guy was allowed to wear his uniform in order to increase his chances of acquittal. And it worked. He didn’t even get a slap on the wrist. And when he got off, he celebrated by doing a little “victory dance” outside of the courthouse.
As far as I am concerned, his behavior was a disgrace to his uniform, and in his case, the odds were stacked against the prosecution.
It was a grave injustice, indeed.