web analytics
September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Apartment 758x530 Africa-Israel at the Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York

Africa Israel Residences, part of the Africa Israel Investments Group led by international businessman Lev Leviev, will present 7 leading projects on the The Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York on Sep 14-15, 2014.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Rush To Judgment

Helmreich-012513

This much we know: as soon as the story broke last month that a former teacher at a well-known Jewish educational institution stood accused of abusing students there decades ago, the teacher’s life changed forever. His employers saw it (he was immediately suspended from his current job), his friends, family and associates would soon learn of it, and anyone who searches the web could now forever find it. His fate was sealed.

What did it take for the newspapers to render such an ultimate and irreparable sentence? Check the articles that broke the story and you’ll find the startling answer: one accuser. That’s right – for the teacher, unlike a former principal also named in the article, a single claim was all it took to print his name, photograph and the repugnant details of the allegation. One paragraph even recounted the sordid tale as fact, without qualifications such as “the former student claimed.”

The “former student,” unlike the teacher he accused, remained anonymous.

This is not a defense of the teacher. Nor is it a denial of the accuser’s claim, or his sincerity. The teacher may be guilty, and if so it is an unspeakably horrible crime – as is any attempt to cover it up. And if he is guilty, his victim has a right to immediate and immeasurable redress.

But the point here is about something else: the standard of evidence used to support such a public charge, one that is as damning as any courtroom verdict – and far more so than most.

As any adolescent knows, criminal verdicts tend to require much more corroboration than this. The reasoning is almost as familiar: if we irretrievably deprive someone of his place in society, we had better get ironclad proof, beyond a reasonable doubt. It should take nothing less to destroy someone.

No similar standard has ever been applied to the press, however. One reason, perhaps, is that accusations in the media, unlike courtroom verdicts, are not final – they can be challenged in the same court of public opinion. So one source may often be good enough.

Except here. In the special case of sexual abuse of minors, the mere appearance of the charge will finish someone, tainting him forever. Would you hire or associate with an accused sex offender? Would you give him the benefit of the doubt? The revulsion evoked by the crime itself spreads to the mere allegation. Publication becomes the ultimate sentence.

That is not to say news stories should carry the same burden of proof as criminal conviction, which is very high. It is only to suggest that there should be some standard of evidence, rather than the lowest imaginable: a single anonymous accuser. Reputable newspapers used to take pains to corroborate such allegations with at least someone else’s similar claims, or independent evidence.

Not so for the teacher whose one accuser chose to remain anonymous. Yet his name and picture were splayed in prominent black and white, and subsequent reports lumped him together with the other educator whose numerous accusers included some who were named, making it seem as though many students had accused them both.

It may turn out that multiple eyewitnesses will step up and confirm the lone, anonymous accusation. But that would hardly change the fact that some newspapers stood ready to ruin him either way, with scandalously thin evidence at the time.

It isn’t always this easy. The American Civil Liberties Union and others have campaigned vigorously for the rights of accused sex offenders to a fair hearing, and they have taken their cause to the press as well.

But you won’t find those activist voices in the present drama. Nor did we hear them during the recent Nechemya Weberman trial, in which a chassidic man was convicted on one alleged victim’s testimony. In that case, the defense even showed she had reason to despise the accused (he had reportedly videotaped her and her paramour and showed it to her parents).

The Weberman case should have been a cause célèbre of liberal due process champions. The defendant was unappealing, having indisputably done at least some disgraceful things (not least among them counseling youngsters without a license and breaking their confidences). The district attorney was under pressure to convict sex offenders from the defendant’s community. And the evidence was thin. There was, in short, a high risk of a questionable verdict – precisely the danger that due-process champions most fear.

About the Author: Jeff Helmreich, a visiting scholar at Harvard Law School, is author of a forthcoming study titled “Reasonable Doubts and Doubtable Reasons: Where Jury Instructions Go Wrong.” This article originally appeared, in somewhat different form, in The Long Island Jewish World.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Rush To Judgment”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Kreshnik Berisha is not Jewish but played for a German soccer team - before joining ISIS.
German Man on Trial for ISIS Membership Played On Jewish Soccer Team
Latest Indepth Stories
Donny-Fuchs-medium

Originally scheduled to be held elsewhere, the hotel canceled, pressured by local missionary groups

syria_stratfo

It’s likely that some of the rebel factions, including US clients, have indeed made pacts with ISIS

Phyllis Chesler

Imam Tafsirli of the Harlem Islamic center: “You cannot be a Muslim without believing in Jesus”

Gas Pump

If simple fuel choice were implemented, the power of petroleum and those who sell it would cease.

Value of IS: It enables people to see the place to which all other Islamist fascism is headed.

“When Frank does something he does it well and you don’t have to worry about dotting the i’s or crossing the t’s.”

President Obama: “ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents”

he time of the Uman pilgrimage is upon us, and we dare not ignore the opportunity to highlight the danger.

Healing requires that the victim be validated for being harmed and the guilty assume responsibility.

During the war, not once was Hashem’s name mentioned to the nation by Israel’s PM or gov’t officials

How many illegal Arab structures are there in the city? Why are they not being destroyed?

We did not win the war in Gaza because we are still captive to the concept of the 2 state solution.

Trapped in a false notion of power, America will lose the battle in the same way Israel now loses.

It’s a cliché, but nonetheless true that 9/11 changed my life. There is evil in the world. Our grandparents were right.

More Articles from Jeff Helmreich
Helmreich-012513

This much we know: as soon as the story broke last month that a former teacher at a well-known Jewish educational institution stood accused of abusing students there decades ago, the teacher’s life changed forever. His employers saw it (he was immediately suspended from his current job), his friends, family and associates would soon learn of it, and anyone who searches the web could now forever find it. His fate was sealed.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/rush-to-judgment/2013/01/23/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: