Obviously it would be entirely wrong to have any sort of definite opinion as to Michael Jackson’s guilt or innocence at this stage in his trial. What concerns me, though, is what the evidence we have heard from the prosecution has implied strongly, and which the defence has not raised in cross-examination.

It seems to me that most of the witnesses have implicated themselves, at least by inaction, as accessories after the fact to the abuse that they testify to having witnessed. I am prepared to stand corrected on US and California law, but surely if you see someone performing sexual acts on an underage child, you have an absolute duty to prevent the continuance of those acts, both directly by intervening at the time, and indirectly by informing the authorities as soon as possible. The fact that you might lose your job, or contravene a confidentiality clause, would seem to me to be no defence; in fact, since it implies that you have a financial stake in the undisturbed continuance of the abuse, it makes your status as accessory or even accomplice rahter more obvious.

All those members of Jackson’s household staff, and several of the relatives of allegedly abused boys, who have testified seem to me to have implicated themselves in this way. And these are prosecution witnesses, which implies to me that they have been given immunity from prosecution for their own crimes of omission on condition that they testify.

It seems to me that this hopelessly contaminates the prosecution’s case. If anyone who testifies for the prosecution is doing so on the basis of an immunity deal, there is a strong implication that that deal depends on their delivering unequivocal evidence of what the prosecution wants them to have seen. Even before there are questions of selling their stories to the press, this gives them a strong interest in shading their evidence in a particular direction and damages their credibility.

As I say, I express no view as to Jackson’s guilt or innocence, but I am very worried that the prosecution’s mild obsession with bringing him to what may or may not be justice has betrayed them into some very dangerous strategies which I assume the defense will at some time raise. It concerns me somewhat that they don’t seem to have raised the question of witness immunity already. If Jackson is guilty, it would be a terrible though necessary thing for him to walk on the basis of evidence having been suborned.

This is one of those cases where I may have got everything totally wrong, and would welcome correction. There is a furhter point and it is this – just how far back does the duty of care in such cases go, and just who is an accessory after the fact. If the former Cardinal Ratzinger can be shown objectively – and the material in today’s Observer seems to do so – to have created a set of rules of confidentiality which made it possible for clerical abusers to weasel out of prosecution by limiting the ability of witnesses to come forward, then is he close enough to acting as accessory to face prosecution? Perhaps the reason he was so keen to be the Pope was that without the head of state immunity that offers him, he was worried about going, as they say on The Bill,
DAHN.

About rozkaveney

Middleaged, trans, novelist, poet, activist
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23 Responses to

  1. redbird says:

    The point about accessory after the fact has been raised in at least some of the U.S. press.

  2. elementalv says:

    Medical personnel, educators and religious workers are required by law (in Michigan and most states, if not all) to report suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities. Others who suspect abuse really should step in and say something, but given the litigious nature of American society, all too often people are afraid to say anything lest they get sued.
    Did Jackson’s staff have to call the police? It’s hard to say. If you believe they knew something was up, they had a moral obligation to report it, though not necessarily a legal one. At the same time, though, they were in just as fragile a position as the children, particularly if any of them were guest workers, legal or otherwise. Intimidation by someone in authority is still abuse, no matter who the victim is.

  3. elementalv says:

    Medical personnel, educators and religious workers are required by law (in Michigan and most states, if not all) to report suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities. Others who suspect abuse really should step in and say something, but given the litigious nature of American society, all too often people are afraid to say anything lest they get sued.

    Did Jackson’s staff have to call the police? It’s hard to say. If you believe they knew something was up, they had a moral obligation to report it, though not necessarily a legal one. At the same time, though, they were in just as fragile a position as the children, particularly if any of them were guest workers, legal or otherwise. Intimidation by someone in authority is still abuse, no matter who the victim is.

  4. rozkaveney says:

    My impression is that in UK law they could be prosecuted for not informing the police. I take the point about guest workers – but none of the press reports I’ve seen indicate anything of the kind about the witnesses I am thinking of.
    And it is not a matter of me believing they knew something was up. They are testifying that they witnessed actual overt acts of abuse and said and did nothing at the time.
    After all, the possibility you might get sacked or sued does not count as the level of duress that would get you off the hook. A gun at your head and a threat of imminent death might.

  5. rozkaveney says:

    My impression is that in UK law they could be prosecuted for not informing the police. I take the point about guest workers – but none of the press reports I’ve seen indicate anything of the kind about the witnesses I am thinking of.

    And it is not a matter of me believing they knew something was up. They are testifying that they witnessed actual overt acts of abuse and said and did nothing at the time.

    After all, the possibility you might get sacked or sued does not count as the level of duress that would get you off the hook. A gun at your head and a threat of imminent death might.

  6. redbird says:

    As I understand it (and I am not a lawyer), “mandated reporter” is people who have to report suspicions of abuse based on things like suspect bruises.
    I’m not sure anyone has legal cover for “I saw person X, known to me by name and face, commit a felony,” much less “I saw person X, known to me by name and face, sexually abuse child Y, in a circumstance where I knew X and Y would be in contact on a regular basis.”

  7. redbird says:

    As I understand it (and I am not a lawyer), “mandated reporter” is people who have to report suspicions of abuse based on things like suspect bruises.

    I’m not sure anyone has legal cover for “I saw person X, known to me by name and face, commit a felony,” much less “I saw person X, known to me by name and face, sexually abuse child Y, in a circumstance where I knew X and Y would be in contact on a regular basis.”

  8. elementalv says:

    Unless the witnesses in question were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony, there’s a chance they will be prosecuted for being an accessory after the fact. Unlike witnessing a murder, where physical safety may be at risk, failing to stop a molestation in progress could be construed as aiding and abetting the abuser.
    I’m still concerned about the intimidation factor, though. Jackson and his cronies have proven themselves adept over the years at convincing witnesses to step back. I don’t think I personally would cave to that kind of pressure/intimidation, but I can see where others would cave to that kind of fear.

  9. elementalv says:

    Unless the witnesses in question were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony, there’s a chance they will be prosecuted for being an accessory after the fact. Unlike witnessing a murder, where physical safety may be at risk, failing to stop a molestation in progress could be construed as aiding and abetting the abuser.

    I’m still concerned about the intimidation factor, though. Jackson and his cronies have proven themselves adept over the years at convincing witnesses to step back. I don’t think I personally would cave to that kind of pressure/intimidation, but I can see where others would cave to that kind of fear.

  10. kindkit says:

    My understanding (and I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not sure how much my understanding is actually worth) is that it’s very common here in the U.S. for witnesses, and even co-criminals, to be offered immunity in return for testimony–much more common, I think, than in England.
    And I don’t have the impression that juries usually consider such testimony to be compromised. In fact, from what I’ve read, it’s more common for juries to be too ready to believe any incriminating testimony, so that people have been convicted on evidence that was almost certainly perjured. (I’m not saying the Jackson case evidence is perjured–I doubt it is–but it has happened in other cases.)

  11. kindkit says:

    My understanding (and I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not sure how much my understanding is actually worth) is that it’s very common here in the U.S. for witnesses, and even co-criminals, to be offered immunity in return for testimony–much more common, I think, than in England.

    And I don’t have the impression that juries usually consider such testimony to be compromised. In fact, from what I’ve read, it’s more common for juries to be too ready to believe any incriminating testimony, so that people have been convicted on evidence that was almost certainly perjured. (I’m not saying the Jackson case evidence is perjured–I doubt it is–but it has happened in other cases.)

  12. jmhm says:

    I have been so appalled by those stories. On what planet do you let your child spend overnights with a man you believe to be an abuser? How do you walk away from your job after you see your boss blowing some sick kid? You’re being held hostage and the cops come and you videotape a sunshiney tribute to the man who has been molesting your child?
    I don’t know if any of the stories are true. If they are true, the people telling them should go to prison.
    As to the new Pope, I am (because I take this part of the whole thing very seriously) trying very, very hard not to believe that I know he’s going to hell.

  13. jmhm says:

    I have been so appalled by those stories. On what planet do you let your child spend overnights with a man you believe to be an abuser? How do you walk away from your job after you see your boss blowing some sick kid? You’re being held hostage and the cops come and you videotape a sunshiney tribute to the man who has been molesting your child?

    I don’t know if any of the stories are true. If they are true, the people telling them should go to prison.

    As to the new Pope, I am (because I take this part of the whole thing very seriously) trying very, very hard not to believe that I know he’s going to hell.

  14. ratphooey says:

    I’m assuming that the Jackson witnesses have been offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony.
    In the case of Pope Ratz, my husband (a lawyer) believes that his policies make him a co-conspirator, and therefore potentially subject to arrest in the US.

  15. ratphooey says:

    I’m assuming that the Jackson witnesses have been offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony.

    In the case of Pope Ratz, my husband (a lawyer) believes that his policies make him a co-conspirator, and therefore potentially subject to arrest in the US.

  16. giogio says:

    I would think this is a perfect manifestation of what I like to call the “culture of victimhood” in the United States. One of the things that bugs me most about Americans and the United States in general is the complete inability of anyone to take personal responsibility for anything, not just when it comes to stopping a crime in progress, but also for the commission of a crime or any other wrong or slight. That’s how you get twinkie defenses and people blaming their children’s wrongdoing on video games, heavy metal music and the wicked media. Everybody thinks of themselves as a victim in some greater conspiracy or sequence of events… it’s sickening.

  17. Under US law, most people have no legal obligation to stop crimes from being committed. If J. Random Citizen sees a stranger victimizing another stranger, he or she is legally free to walk away and not say anything. However, parents have a legal obligation to protect their children — that obligation includes reporting suspected abuse, removing children from abusive situations, and a whole bunch of other things. That’s because of the specific responsibilities parents have to their children. I don’t know if independent charges of child neglect would be more apt than accusing them of being an accessory to what Jackson did.
    People in certain professions are “mandated reporters” for suspected abuse. Doctors, nurses, day-care providers, teachers, are all legally required to report their suspicions of child abuse or domestic violence. (Including elder abuse.) Members of the clergy, dentists, various kinds of therapists, etc, are mandated reporters in some states but not in others. I’m not following the Jackson trial at all closely, but I don’t think most of the witnesses are mandated reporters.
    This may be a way in which US law is just different from UK law. We are not automatically, legally, responsible for people by default. If I happen to see someone drowning, US law does not require me to throw that person a rope, or to call for help, or to do anything at all to save the person. (I’m Jewish, so I believe I have a moral obligation to do what I can to save the person, if I can do so without endangering myself. But I have a lot of moral obligations that are not legal obligations, and that’s generally ok with me. I’d really prefer my government not try to enforce religious law.) Giogio complains about the lack of personal responsibility in the US, but the whole premise behind this legal structure is personal responsibility. Everyone is responsible for himself or herself, with no legal obligation to help others (though you can if you want.)

  18. Under US law, most people have no legal obligation to stop crimes from being committed. If J. Random Citizen sees a stranger victimizing another stranger, he or she is legally free to walk away and not say anything. However, parents have a legal obligation to protect their children — that obligation includes reporting suspected abuse, removing children from abusive situations, and a whole bunch of other things. That’s because of the specific responsibilities parents have to their children. I don’t know if independent charges of child neglect would be more apt than accusing them of being an accessory to what Jackson did.

    People in certain professions are “mandated reporters” for suspected abuse. Doctors, nurses, day-care providers, teachers, are all legally required to report their suspicions of child abuse or domestic violence. (Including elder abuse.) Members of the clergy, dentists, various kinds of therapists, etc, are mandated reporters in some states but not in others. I’m not following the Jackson trial at all closely, but I don’t think most of the witnesses are mandated reporters.

    This may be a way in which US law is just different from UK law. We are not automatically, legally, responsible for people by default. If I happen to see someone drowning, US law does not require me to throw that person a rope, or to call for help, or to do anything at all to save the person. (I’m Jewish, so I believe I have a moral obligation to do what I can to save the person, if I can do so without endangering myself. But I have a lot of moral obligations that are not legal obligations, and that’s generally ok with me. I’d really prefer my government not try to enforce religious law.) Giogio complains about the lack of personal responsibility in the US, but the whole premise behind this legal structure is personal responsibility. Everyone is responsible for himself or herself, with no legal obligation to help others (though you can if you want.)

  19. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think there is or could be in UK law a general offence of not reporting a crime. There was a time some years back when the Times and the Today origramme were trying to nail Cormac Murphy O’Connor, supposedly for failing to report a crime, and a (Catholic) JP opointed out at some tlength that this wasn’t and couldn’t be a crime in itself. Parents and some professionals are in a different position, as other comment types point out.

  20. dmsherwood53 says:

    Going out on a limb
    I’m willing to bruise the spirit of a fair trial by saying enuf has been witness too-barring proof of a goverment conspiracy(to which I haven’t a complete closed mind)the bugger(sorry totally tastless)is guilty. I think he’ll be found guilty too but justice will not be dun. Justice would be total confistcation of his wealth and a reeduccation remolding of his personality from the basement up. Dunno if psycology is up to it there are civil rights issues too. Agree that good case can be made that some/all of the prosecution witnesses are more guily. He’s a sad sick bastard. They did it (covered up I mean)in the course of the noble end and 3 square meals a day and getting laid regular.
    How far the rot goes in the Catholic Church is a can of worms nobody I mean nobody wants to open. That might involve building a wall around major Seminarys and redifing them as Prisons.

  21. dmsherwood53 says:

    Going out on a limb

    I’m willing to bruise the spirit of a fair trial by saying enuf has been witness too-barring proof of a goverment conspiracy(to which I haven’t a complete closed mind)the bugger(sorry totally tastless)is guilty. I think he’ll be found guilty too but justice will not be dun. Justice would be total confistcation of his wealth and a reeduccation remolding of his personality from the basement up. Dunno if psycology is up to it there are civil rights issues too. Agree that good case can be made that some/all of the prosecution witnesses are more guily. He’s a sad sick bastard. They did it (covered up I mean)in the course of the noble end and 3 square meals a day and getting laid regular.

    How far the rot goes in the Catholic Church is a can of worms nobody I mean nobody wants to open. That might involve building a wall around major Seminarys and redifing them as Prisons.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Realistically, what other options do the prosecution have but to rely on insiders? It’s not like they’re ever going to find a Smoking Victim outside Neverland or in some way unconnected to the Jackson entourage. All the cases Jackson paid off, and all the testimony that’s been given so far, suggest an MO you could sum up as “come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly.”
    Now there’s a lot of blame to go round in this case, and some of it descends on the prosecution witnesses’ heads: that in itself doesn’t let Jackson off the hook.
    I daresay it might have been preferable to have collared the lot, but realistically that was never going to happen. In the real world a prosecuting service often has to prioritise going for the worst or biggest criminal over going for all of them: and that often means compromises that are less than 100% morally pure.
    BTW interesting to see the second ex-wife’s testimony today. Bearing in mind she was in the middle of a custody battle for her two kids, I can’t help but wonder what result and $ support she ends up getting after today’s turn on the stand.
    Lin

  23. Anonymous says:

    Realistically, what other options do the prosecution have but to rely on insiders? It’s not like they’re ever going to find a Smoking Victim outside Neverland or in some way unconnected to the Jackson entourage. All the cases Jackson paid off, and all the testimony that’s been given so far, suggest an MO you could sum up as “come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly.”

    Now there’s a lot of blame to go round in this case, and some of it descends on the prosecution witnesses’ heads: that in itself doesn’t let Jackson off the hook.

    I daresay it might have been preferable to have collared the lot, but realistically that was never going to happen. In the real world a prosecuting service often has to prioritise going for the worst or biggest criminal over going for all of them: and that often means compromises that are less than 100% morally pure.

    BTW interesting to see the second ex-wife’s testimony today. Bearing in mind she was in the middle of a custody battle for her two kids, I can’t help but wonder what result and $ support she ends up getting after today’s turn on the stand.

    Lin

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