Thursday, February 09, 2006

Beyond the Simple Equation of Legal Rhetoric with Deceit

Many of you, in your comments, have written about deceit as a common trope of legal rhetoric. You have tied this theme to a couple of other easily identifiable themes: rhetorical manipulation, and money/power. These are powerful themes that the public commonly recognizes. The sentiments concerning watching criminals "get off" on legal technicalities, seemingly manipulated by rhetorically-trained advocates, are bread-and-butter mass appeals.

Today in class we'll discuss the ways in which this common view of rhetoric as manipulation, and legal advocates as manipulators, may be short-sighted in comparison to a more nuanced view of the law as a collection of "topoi," and legal reasoning as a category of the first rhetorical canon, invention.

Meanwhile, since discussion of the O.J. Simpson trial seems to be the most frequently recurring example of "legal manipulation," I thought I'd drop some links to some alternative views of the Simpson case:

Here is a review of Dershowitz's book Reasonable Doubts.

An article about "playing the race card" in two famous trials--O.J. Simpson and Bernard Goetz.

Another article about the O.J. trial and race.

Many people (unfairly, in my opinion) blamed the outcome of the trial on the jury, and in particular implied that African-American jurors were to blame. Some interesting (and varying) points about that myth can be found here, here, and here.

And as Scott Shuchart writes in his otherwise unremarkable "Nine Myths about O.J.," the jury did not believe O.J. Simpson was innocent. They believed that the prosecution failed to prove him guilty:
Whatever message the jury may have wished to send...the verdict was about possible holes in the prosecution's evidence, not an assertion of innocence. Simpson may not have been proven guilty, but neither was he proven innocent.

Understanding this distinction may very well be the key to understanding the importance of the adversarial system of justice.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as rhetoric being described as deciet, I think it is more appropriately categorized as justification. There is a thin line between the two. I feel the difference is; if a matter is reasonably justified beyond refutatation, it cannot be considered a deceit because deceit is often erroneous and able to be refuted. In terms of the OJ case, the prosecution was deceitful, but failed to justify it and therefore was defeated by the rationalization and justification of the defense.

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In class last Thursday we also talked about who was to "blame" for the inequalities in the legal system in regard to what kind of attorneys a defendant can afford. There is a really good article on the ACLU website for those of you who are interested in how good lawyering affects the outcome of cases. The link address is
-Sara Whittle

9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I look back at the Wetlaufer article he talks about how "the public has less regard for our profession than we might like" I wonder if part of the reason for that isn't connected to our concerns regarding what we could afford if we were in a legal battle.
-Sara Whittle

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with Randall there is a very thin line between rhetoric being described as deceit and justification.
when someone is trying to persuade you into believing they are right, sometimes they will do whatever it takes, even if it means deceiveing you and it bites you in the but later.
justification is hard, some people stand firm in their opinions, and can't be persuaded no matter how justified or deceitful your argument is.
- Holly

5:38 PM  

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