Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Recently the American Bar Association Journal ranked the 1992 comedy My Cousin Vinny third among the 25 greatest legal movies ever made. According to the journal, the film contains cinema’s “best-ever introduction to the rules of criminal procedure.”
I’ve long admired the movie for a different reason. It does a stellar job of demonstrating the danger of listening to only one point-of-view.
Early on, at the probable cause hearing, the unprepared and inexperienced defense lawyer Vincent Gambini (played by Joe Pesci) fails to challenge the prosecution’s version of events. He cross-examines no witnesses. He offers no alternative explanation.
As a result, the case against the two accused appears damning. They are young, male, and from out of state. Moreover, three eye-witnesses who have no reason to lie insist they murdered a convenience store clerk.
At the trial, however, a different picture emerges. With a little probing, the defense lawyer establishes that one of the witnesses is profoundly mistaken about the timing of events. The second witness, as it happens, had his view obstructed by trees and a dirty window. The third suffers from impaired vision.
Before long, the apparently open-and-shut case against the young men evaporates. Arguments that first appear convincing to the jury are soon discredited.
Which brings me to global warming. Millions of people who watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth are stuck back at the probable cause hearing. They’ve heard that human-generated carbon dioxide causes global warming. They’ve heard that global warming will lead to all sorts of disasters. But they haven’t moved beyond that stage.
Prosecutor Gore presented only one side of the issue. Audiences who watched An Inconvenient Truth didn’t return to the movie theatre the next day for Part Two – in which someone else played the role of a defense lawyer by probing, questioning, and cross-examining Mr. Gore’s case. Viewers weren’t invited to consider alternative explanations – such as the belief that normal, natural climate cycles are associated with temperature variations in both directions.
Much of the mainstream media, not to mention the Nobel prize committee, apparently stopped paying attention after the probable cause hearing, as well. Ditto for the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That body has never examined competing theories with equal amounts of attention, energy, or rigor. Rather, it has pursued one idea relentlessly – that human-generated carbon dioxide causes global warming.
All in all, this is a distressing state of affairs. Even when a prosecutor and a defense lawyer are given equal time to present alternative theories, the justice system sometimes fails. Innocent people are wrongly convicted.
In the case of global warming, we haven’t even bothered with a fair trial. We’ve just taken the one-sided version of events supplied by folks like Al Gore and declared it to be gospel.
Vincent Gambini to his nephew, who’s accused of murder:
The DA’s gotta build a case. Building a case is like building a house. Each piece of evidence is just another building block. He wants to make a brick bunker of a building. He wants to use serious, solid-looking bricks like these. Right? Let me show you something…[taking out a deck of cards]
He’s gonna show you the bricks. He’ll show you they’ve got straight sides. He’ll show you how they’ve got the right shape. He’ll show them to you in a very special way so that they appear to have everything a brick should have. But there’s one thing he’s not gonna show you. When you look at the bricks at the right angle, they’re as thin as this playing card. His whole case is an illusion, a magic trick.