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In 1996, two events occurred that brought “opinions” to the forefront.
The first was the second conviction of my cousin Ray Krone for a murder he did not commit. While there was an abundance of evidence in the case (some neutral and some which actually favored Ray), only a single bite mark left on the victim by the perpetrator implicated my cousin. This implication came in the form of an opinion given by an expert witness, a doctor of dentistry, that Ray’s teeth made the mark. To counter this opinion, the defense presented three equally credentialed and qualified experts who gave the exact opposite opinion. These contradictory opinions confused the jurors. They didn’t know which expert(s) to believe. Oblivious to the fact that confusion over disagreeing experts constitutes reasonable doubt, they decided to become experts. After re-analyzing the bite mark evidence themselves, they came to the collective opinion: GUILTY.
What are “opinions” anyway? Aren’t they really just guesses? And don’t wrong guesses frequently go by another name—bullshit? Anyway, from what I’ve seen, an abundance of it gets into our courtrooms.
Interestingly only experts (usually doctors of something or other) are allowed to give opinions in the courtroom. No judge would allow a lay witness to stand up in court, point to the defendant, and tell the jury, “In my opinion, he did it!” But guess what? Eye witnesses guess more than do doctors. According to The Innocence Project, “Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in nearly 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.” Doctors’ opinions (aka junk forensic science) come in second at 52%.
Another difference between lay and expert witnesses is that doctors are paid for their opinions while lay witnesses are not—although prosecutors can and not infrequently do, if the statistics are to be believed, pimp jailhouse snitches with promises of leniency. This is what happened to Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (see Denzel Washington as Carter in the movie The Hurricane) and Randall Dale Adams (documentary The Thin Blue Line). Due to eyewitness misidentification, Carter and Adams collectively spent 30 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
In my cousin’s case, it was junk science that did him in. The prosecutor paid his expert doctor more than $50,000 for his opinion, while the defense paid its experts less than one third of that amount. In time, the defense experts proved to be the ones with the correct opinion, because Cousin Ray was, after 10 years in prison, exonerated by DNA evidence.
The second event that brought “opinions” to the forefront was that my right knee began acting up again. It had first been injured in a tobogganing accident when I was 15 and was subsequently aggravated a few times while I was playing high school football. At age 30, my knee “went out” (became painful and swollen) for no apparent reason. It was subsequently fixed by a superb orthopedic surgeon who removed the torn meniscus from the original accident that had been floating around my knee joint for some 15 years. After a smooth 10-day recovery, my knee was as good as new and caused me no problems for the next 25 years.
When my knee began acting up again, in 1996, I asked around to find the best orthopedic surgeon in town. There were many from which to choose because Tahoe, being a major ski area, gets more than its share of broken bones. I picked, by all accounts, the best orthopedic surgeon in the area and agreed with his advice to have orthoscopic surgery. Remembering my first surgical experience, I expected to walk out of the surgery with a knee as good as new. But then the doctor walked in with bad news. He told me not only that I had only partial meniscus left but also that I had severe arthritis, and he recommended that I have a knee replacement. Well, this opinion was not what I expected or wanted to hear, to say the least. So instead of agreeing to have my knee replaced, I hobbled to three other physicians for second opinions. While all agreed that there was evidence of arthritis and that I had only partial meniscus left, none felt I needed a knee replacement. Like Cousin Ray, it was three opinions to one but, unlike Ray, I was my own judge and jury. I declined the knee replacement offer.
The pain lingered on for quite some time, causing me to take a great interested in “arthritis.” After some research, I discovered several reported links between dairy and arthritis. So I diligently eliminated all dairy products from my diet. (It turned out to be my first step in adopting a mostly plant-based diet.)
In time I recovered, and today, though not 100%, my right knee is original, pain-free, and functional enough to sustain repeated left turns on the ski slopes.
My experience in the courtroom caused me to write a book. My experience in the doctor’s office caused me to include in my book the following:
The reality is that even medical doctors, notwithstanding their specific knowledge acquired through much effort, are just like the rest of us—ordinary people who need to earn a living. Since their livelihood pretty much depends on their opinions, it doesn’t take them long to learn which ones pay the bills. When venality prevails, we as individuals may voluntarily find ourselves undergoing expensive treatments that do no good or taking pills that are not needed or electing surgeries that do more harm than good.Finally, from what I’ve seen, I am of the opinion that “opinions” should be barred from the courtroom, as well as from doctors’ offices—FACTS ONLY PLEASE!
For a complimentary copy of my book, Jingle Jangle: The Perfect Crime Turned Inside Out, you may email me at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2013 by Jim Rix