Unless you’ve been living in a cave these past 3 days, you are well aware of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. You’re aware of the “alt-right”; of the neo-nazis; of the KKK members; of the “torch-light parade”; of the counter-protesters; of young people standing peaceably by while people spew hate and bile. You’re aware of the hand-wringing that seems to naturally follow these types of events; of the “that is not America.” It may not be the America we (most of us, at least some of us) want…but, to some to degree, it is clearly the America we have.
This post is not about the politics of the events this past weekend; although if you know me at all, you know how I feel about those as well. If you don’t know me, I’ll tell you: I have no patience for neo-nazis, members of the KKK, privileged white men who believe, somehow, “their country” has been taken away or somehow needs to be “taken back.” They and their ilk can rot. But I digress.
This post is not about all those people who, for some reason were in Charlottesville protesting the removal of a confederate monument. No, this post is about one man. His name is James Alex Fields Jr. He is the man who is accused of plowing that grey Dodge Charger with those tinted windows into a crowd of people on Saturday, injuring dozens and killing Heather Heyer. (Please notice the bolded text…that was purposeful.) By all accounts, Ms. Heyer was a wonderful, giving human being. She will be missed by her family and friends and the world is a lesser place without her in it.
Mr. Fields, however, has not been convicted of a crime. The proceedings are in the earliest stages and, yet, the accounts of various news organizations may make it impossible (or at a minimum very difficult) for him to have a fair trial. For example, in today’s San Diego Union Tribune, there is a story bearing the headline: “Man accused of ramming car into crowd was previously accused of beating his mother.” (Please notice the bolded text…that was purposeful.)
The article goes on to recount various incidents from 2010 and 2011 where Mr. Fields allegedly committed acts of domestic violence. (Note these incidents were found in police reports, the article makes no mention of convictions for the alleged acts…which would, under the Rules of Evidence, be required for such things to be admissible at trial.) The article recounts Mr. Fields being “singled out in the 9th grade” for his “deeply held, radical” convictions on race.
It is easy to have a knee-jerk reaction when you read about Mr. Fields’ alleged past and his views. It is easy to say “screw it, he’s guilty; why is the justice system even dealing with Mr. Fields!” Indeed, that is probably how Mr. Fields felt about others who were accused of a crime.
Events such as these, where an individual as loved as Ms. Heyer loses her life are a blow to us all. This is exactly the type of case where the presumption of innocence is so very difficult to imagine but is so very necessary. Despite my personal beliefs concerning what Mr. Fields is accused of doing, or his past actions or political beliefs, I, for one, will continue to strive to presume him innocent unless and until the government proves it beyond a reasonable doubt, with admissible evidence. As a criminal defense attorney, I can do nothing less. Indeed, the United States Constitution requires I do nothing less.