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April 9, 2007

The real presumption in the Conrad Black trial

mark_steyn.jpgAs I noted many times in regard to the criminal trial against former Enron executives Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay, the real presumption in the case was not the usual presumption that the defendants were innocent until proven guilty. Rather, the real presumption in the trial was that Skilling and Lay were rich, Enron went bust and investors had big losses, so Skilling and Lay must be guilty of some crime.

Well, Mark Steyn is noticing the same dynamic in his most recent blog post on the criminal trial of Conrad Black:

A lot of my chums on the media benches remain convinced Conrad Black is guilty of something. It’s just that, with every day the prosecution presents its case, it’s getting harder and harder to say of what. Mr Sussman, the boyish charmer on the government side, dutifully refers to the defendants as “co-conspirators”, but for a good conspiracy you have to have someone to conspire against. And, with each prosecution witness, it seems clearer that just about everybody was in on this conspiracy. . . .

As is crushingly obvious, almost everyone connected with these non-competes in any way approved them, disclosed them, filed the paperwork in triplicate. Either everyone is guilty or no one is, but arguing that only these four should swing for it is becoming increasingly absurd.

Which is one of the key reasons why such a case should be in the civil justice system, which is better equipped than the criminal justice system to allocate liability among multiple defendants. Steyn also notes the perverse effect that the adoption of widespread plea bargaining in the criminal justice system generally has on white collar criminal cases in particular, a point that was noted earlier here. Finally, that conspiracy in the Black trial sure sounds a lot like the ephemeral one involved in the Lay-Skilling case.

Posted by Tom at April 9, 2007 4:15 AM |

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