F. Lee Bailey speaks to Husson students

Posted Wednesday, May 4, 2011 in Culture

F. Lee Bailey speaks to Husson students

F. Lee Bailey speaks to students at Husson University.

by Jeff Harmon

BANGOR -- Noted defense attorney F. Lee Bailey spoke to a crowd of students and guests on April 29 at Husson University’s Gracie Theater. Bailey’s lecture was part of the ongoing Dean’s Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series.

The series’ aim is to bring leaders from corporate, professional, government and associate sectors to the campus to provide valuable lessons to students seeking careers in those fields.

“Most human misery comes from making mistakes,” Bailey said in the opening of his lecture to the full theater. The criminal justice field is riddled with shortcomings and we haven’t done enough to correct the things that we know are wrong with it.

Bailey began his law career in 1952 as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. He began as the second assistant legal officer and quickly found himself thrust into the position of the base legal officer. The first case he was to try in military court martial proceedings was against a Marine who had gone AWOL. (Absent without leave) He felt bad for the man. He continued to practice military law until his discharge from the Marines in 1956. From there, he went on to study civilian law at Boston University, one of the top ranked law schools in the country. He was ranked first in his class and graduated with his law degree in 1960. Just a month after he passed the bar exam, one of his first cases was a death penalty case.

Bailey feels that another issue with the legal system is that frequently defendants are indicted so that prosecutors can make headlines. The system is often not about a suspect’s guilt, but how charging them can benefit a prosecutor or judge politically. It is, too often, not about “justice.”

Bailey later attended the Keeler Polygraph Institute in Chicago. While there he became an expert in the use of the polygraph. (Lie Detector) Polygraph results are not admissible as evidence in most courts in the United States unless attorneys from both sides of the case are in agreement. The exception to this is New Mexico. In 1973 in the case of State V. Dorsey, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that polygraph evidence is admissible if certain requirements are met.

During his lecture, Bailey opined that polygraph results are a valuable and reliable tool in defense of a client. The polygraph can only tell that a test subject is lying about something, not what, specifically, they are lying about. For this reason they cannot be relied on to prove a suspect’s guilt. They can however tell with certainty when a suspect is absolutely telling the truth. He likened telling the truth all the time to quitting smoking. It’s a very difficult thing to do, but it’s always good for you.

 The legal process in the United States guarantees every defendant the right to a fair trial. In Bailey’s own words, “No trial can be considered fair if an innocent is convicted. A person who didn’t do it deserves the benefit of any tool available that can prove that innocence.”

When DNA evidence first became available to law enforcement, 95 people who were on death row were found to be innocent of the crimes that they had been convicted of. That disturbing statistic is part of the reason for Bailey’s opposition to capital punishment. Another reason is that it almost never serves as a deterrent to crimes. He cites the example of turn-of-the-century England where picking pockets was punishable by the death penalty. A favorite place to commit the crime of picking pockets was at public hangings. During executions, people’s attention was fixed on the spectacle of the condemned criminals, making it easier for a pick-pocket get away with his crime unnoticed.

What happens if someone is executed, and evidence is uncovered that proves their innocence? In a criminal trial, the proof needed for a conviction is that it be beyond a reasonable doubt. Bailey believes that in cases where the death penalty applies, the standard should be proof beyond ANY doubt or question. “We are simply not good enough to make that decision.”

At the close of the lecture, Bailey fielded several questions from the audience. One person asked, “What were your toughest cases to defend?”

Bailey first answered that the O.J. Simpson trial wasn’t one of them. He then said that the trials of Patty Hearst, Captain Ernest Medina, and Doctor Sam Sheppard were the three toughest and most memorable of his career. Among his final words of advice to the audience were these, “If you want to succeed in life, first define what success means to you. Do NOT wind up at the age of 50 with nothing but money.”

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