Man Without Qualities

Saturday, February 07, 2004

The Strange Case Of Reasonable Doubt v. Marthahate

Douglas Faneuil is the government's chief witness against Martha Stewart, a witness on whose credibility before the jury the government's entire case hangs.

Douglas Faneuil has now testified that he believed he would lose his job unless he lied to cover up the true reason Stewart sold. So, faced with that kind of choice, Mr. Faneuil now says he lied: "I felt I would be fired if I didn't lie."

Mr. Faneuil is testifying pursuant to deal he cut with the federal government. If he hadn't cut the deal, he faced a good deal of time in prison. The deal provides that in exchange for saying bad things about Ms. Stewart, Mr. Faneuil does not have to go to jail.

How likely is it that a man who admits he lied to federal investigators to avoid losing his job is above lying at the behest of federal investigators to avoid losing his freedom?

This single admission of Mr. Faneuil should alone be more than enough to create reasonable doubt as to his credibility in the minds of any sensible jury. And if that happens, the case against Ms. Stewart falls.

Indeed, the government's case has already fallen objectively. The government is now relying on its hopes that this particular jury is not really listening or effectively processing the testimony. In other words, the government is trying to pull a fast one to put Ms. Stewart in prison. Perhaps the government can "win." Perhaps the prosecution can use Ms. Stewart's many and egregious personality defects to obscure the fact that it's key witness lacks substantial credibility.

But however this case turns out, it is nothing short of a disgrace for the United States Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York. But that's nothing compared to the disgraceful - almost irrational - behavior of the trial judge, who seems to think that Ms. Stewart could be found beyond a reasonable doubt to be guilty on the basis of "strong circumstantial evidence" even without Mr. Faneuil, an opinion voiced to my knowledge by no other participant in this case. Not even the prosecutors or anyone covering the trial in the media have to my knowledge expressed such a bizarre thought.

Perhaps the judge was merely attempting to spur a plea bargain by Ms. Stewart. But Ms. Stewart's lawyers have almost certainly already tried this case before more than one "dummy" jury prior to this trial (being able to do that is one of the many benefits of having a very rich client), and the Stewart attorneys therefore have a pretty good idea of how this actual jury is likely to deal with this case. They don't need disingenuous judicial posturing to help them make up their minds. They probably just thought she sounded ridiculous - except to the extent the judge's bias may ultimately be reflected in incorrect jury instructions.

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