CNN Senior Executive Producer
As I approach 50, I must remind myself, despite my “vast” life experience, always be prepared to be surprised. For example, this morning at 10:30am, CNN was covering the “balloon boy” parents’ court appearance - LIVE. What a waste of precious air time I thought. And then, I was surprised.
FLY BABY, FLY
The defense attorney for the “balloon boy’s” father was explaining politely to the judge why the judge could keep things brief since his client understood the implications of his guilty plea. My eyes were glued to the right side of CNN’s screen which showed video of the great helium balloon flight – speeding through the sky – looking like a giant chef’s hat racing to pluck the father from the court room oven and deliver him to his alleged dream of a reality show.
But this was his reality show. In the courtroom. Pleading guilty. That’s when the surprise hit me. This story was not a waste of precious air time.
The judge, after listening to the defense attorney say brevity was acceptable, insisted on giving a thorough explanation to the defendant. The judge took his time to explain to balloon boy’s dad the implications of a guilty plea. You are presumed innocent in our system, the judge told “balloon boy’s” father, Richard Heene. By pleading guilty, the judge slowly and methodically emphasized, you are giving up that presumption of innocence.
To witness the judge slow down the process in the spirit of our judicial system was more thrilling than watching that helium balloon racing through the sky.
AND THEN …
About a half hour later, again on CNN live, I listened to Attorney General Holder discuss a much more significant case, to say the least. He announced the government’s decision to try five of the 9/11 suspects in a civilian court of law. He expects that prosecutors will seek the death penalty. And he added: “I am confident in the ability of our courts to provide these defendants a fair trial, just as they have for over 200 years.”
That optimism about the fairness of the American judicial system was reinforced by the judge at a far less consequential court appearance a half hour earlier.
There is a legitimate debate over whether the 9/11 suspects should be tried in a military or civilian court which I won’t explore here. But I couldn’t help notice the same bedrock principle would apply to a silly prank as well as to one of the most violent crimes imaginable.
No matter what the charge, no matter the severity of the crime, in America, Innocent Until Proven Guilty.
It doesn’t hurt to be reminded of that, when you least expect it, whatever your age.
Later today my latest installment of how jury selection principles can help destroy the 18-49 year old demo in time, I hope, for my 50th birthday. I will acknowledge how sometimes youth does = influence.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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