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Author attacks the trial system, before abruptly changing course
Sadakat Kadri's look at the law lacks balance and ignores the inherent nobility of our system.

Reviewed By Sam A. Mackie | Special to the Sentinel
Posted October 30, 2005

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Author Sadakat Kadri has it in mind to discuss the history of criminal trial law in The Trial, his central theme being the conflict between reason and emotion, and the ability of the law to "rebalance a cosmos knocked out of kilter."

Unhappily, although Kadri admits that the law has come to mean "reasoned deliberation," his discussion of criminal law quickly veers into a dizzying discussion of philosophical extremes -- punishment and mistake, justice and vengeance, secrecy and spectacle, superstition and reason, brutality and dignity -- and stays there to the very last page.

It is no secret that in early trials, God was the judge. Kadri recounts the use of ordeal, where only the innocent prevailed in combat, and only an innocent's wounds, after they were inflicted, healed rather than festered. Kadri also discusses the early form of evidence, whereby, during a "swearing" contest (compurgation), a defendant's innocence was determined by those who confirmed his veracity and good standing in the community.

But Kadri accentuates the salacious and despicable aspects of his chosen cases, and ignores all else. A sample of his chapter titles is illustrative: "The Inquisition" (Kadri calls it "orthodoxy revisited"); "The Witch Trial" (from the "hushed monasteries and torture chambers of Central Europe" to the terrors of Salem); and "The Trials of Animals, Corpses, and Things" (litigation, for instance, against weevils threatening Alpine vineyards, and "defunct decedents" who died before their cases were called, but were nonetheless tried in absentia).

Kadri's final chapter, "The Jury Trial (2), A Theater of Justice," is perhaps most telling of all. Kadri has no faith in the jury system because it is riddled with irrationality and "unreasoned" verdicts. Moreover, a trial is an Alice in Wonderland combination of undefined leaps of faith, random chance, illogic and the vagaries of human wisdom that fill the chasm where evidence and due process should stand.

Kadri's prime example of law-as-theater is the O.J. Simpson case. But to equate the Simpson case with everyday trial law is hopelessly naive. And Kadri's definition of justice -- that a visceral longing to convict the guilty supersedes protection of the innocent -- flies in the face of our most proven and revered Anglo-Saxon legal traditions.

Kadri's own history gives us a clue to understanding his bias against trial law. He is of Pakistani-Finnish extraction, born and educated in England, a member of the New York bar, and a Harvard Law School graduate. He has represented death-row inmates, prosecuted dictators and their regimes and written award-winning travel books.

His experiences are wide, multinational and multifaceted; but they are not deep, and they lack a balanced perspective. He sees the bizarre, the depraved, and the mystical, and he finds color and sensationalism in them. He also summarily ignores the depth, nobility, reason and honor in the Western jury system.

That is why he believes that equality before the law regularly loses out to racial, sexual and financial bias, and that our trial system is doomed. In essence, he despises the system because it is not perfect. He forgets, for the first 345 pages of his text, his comment on the nobility of the trial system as penned on his last page:

"Perhaps most potently of all, the criminal trial literally enacts the meaning of human dignity, showing a civilization that treats its most despicable enemies with respect -- presuming them innocent, confronting them as equals, and giving them a champion to argue their cause."

Sam A. Mackie is an Orlando attorney.

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