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Juan Carlos Orenes Ruiz, PhD in Law, Adjunct Professor of the University of Navarra, Spain

Expectation dashed

Mon, 23 Jan 2012 13:10:02 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Judgment has been handed down in the Marta del Castillo case and the general feeling, in view of the comments in the media and the reaction of public opinion, is that justice has not been done. However, we can safely assume that most of those who have described the ruling as illogical or unjust have not read the sentence. Why, then, such a widespread reaction? Quite simply, because an expectation has been disappointed, because the ruling of the Provincial Court of Seville has not corresponded to a previous verdict, that of society.

Since the first investigations began, a parallel trial has been developing: the terrible circumstances surrounding the case allowed the media to approach it from a purely emotional perspective, involving viewers who, naturally, identified with the suffering of the parents of the missing girl. All subject of hasty conclusions were formulated, psychological profiles and lucubrations were made on which, in turn, opinions were supported; the morbid treatment, the spectacle, the profusion of images of mourning and popular indignation prevailed, data and images of minors were broadcast. During the development of the oral trial, witnesses and experts were interviewed, reconstructions of facts were made mixing real images of the accused with others of very similar actors.

The parallel trial affects all those involved in the process, rights such as honor, privacy, self-image, the protection of minors, the presumption of innocence and the right to a process with all the guarantees. Not only this, it also has the capacity to influence citizens, to create a certain state of public opinion in favor or against the actors in the process, at final, to anticipate a verdict before the actual trial is held. For all these reasons, when the judicial process has concluded and a sentence has been handed down, public opinion has found that the sentence does not correspond to the anticipated verdict, its expectations have not been met and the feeling of frustration becomes inevitable. The consequences are disastrous for the prestige and credibility of justice, affecting the very foundations of the rule of law.

The difficulties of the case are obvious, the victim's body has not been found and the main evidentiary material has revolved around the confession of the person considered to be the perpetrator of the murder, who gave up to six versions of how the crime was committed. This is not a problem of law but basically of test, since in order to convict it is necessary to reach a certainty of guilt obtained from the evaluation of the test practiced in the act of the oral trial. The court makes an effort to describe in detail the way in which it has carried out this evaluation, according to logical and rational criteria, explaining the reasons why it has considered that the evidentiary material was not sufficient to overturn the presumption of innocence of three of the defendants.

It is not up to public opinion to judge, but it can evaluate the activity carried out by the courts, and it is legitimate that we can analyze and criticize the content of the sentence; that we deplore the vileness of the behavior of those who, abusing the guarantees of our legal system, varied their version over and over again, increasing the pain and suffering of the parents; That we should be surprised at how the double prosecution, that of the minor and the rest of the accused, produces discordant pronouncements or that we should ask ourselves why during the phase of research it was not possible to obtain evidence and elements from test that would have given greater consistency to the accusations formulated.