It is often said that one of the cornerstones of our criminal justice system is the concept that it is better to let a hundred guilty men go free than to convict one innocent. But what if you had to live in the community where those hundred guilty murderers and rapists were set free...?
Although an imperfect film, I thought it did a good job of being fair to both sides of the argument (just like the film "Magnum Force"), being unusually free of the usual liberal Hollywood bias.
The criminal justice system will always be flawed, because human beings are flawed, they still make mistakes even when they try their best. But let's face it, even though the standard is supposed to be "proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," day after day after day suave defense attorneys bamboozle sheepish jurors into a standard of "beyond the shadow of a doubt." Many defense attorneys often don't try cases -- they try causes. They ask the jury not to render a verdict based on the evidence or the facts of the case at hand, but instead based on how they feel about some social or political issue that they claim is the REAL reason why their client was charged. Time and again, judges, jurors, prosecutors, police and the public are asked to gouge their own eyes out and lobotomize themsleves into ignoring clear evidence of guilt -- even when it proves guilt beyond the shadow of a doubt -- because of some highly unlikely technical interpretation and misapplication of the letter of the law in order to violate its spirit. To many defense lawyers, the term "intellectual honesty" is an oxymoron.... (If you doubt anything in this paragraph, then you've obviously never heard of the OJ Simpson case.)
It is easy to understand Michael Douglas' frustrations as a judge. Clearly, the system needs improvements. But by the end of the film it becomes equally clear that Hal Holbrook's changes are not improvements! Erring too far on EITHER side of the equation erodes people's faith in the system, which results in just the sort of breakdown we see in society today.
So, now that "The Star Chamber" (and "Magnum Force") has shown us the dangers of the criminal justice system moving too far to the right, when is Hollywood going to show us the dangers of it moving too far to the left...? Don't bother holding your breath -- read the newspaper instead....