Apr 30, 2009

Susan Boyle and (former) Sheriff Mike Carona

Susan Boyle is the frumpy, unemployed middle-aged spinster who became a YouTube sensation for her magnificent singing of "I Dreamed A Dream" (from Les Miserables) on the UK TV show, "Britain's Got Talent."

Mike Carona is the disgraced ex-Sheriff of Orange County (CA), who was fired and criminally convicted after a trial revealed his corruption and abuse of trust, including the trust placed in him by his wife.   

I would hope that Susan Boyle would see fit to forgive me for linking her name with Mike Carona's.  I do so because their disparate stories should remind us how easily fooled we can be: Susan Boyle's shabby outward appearance masked a marvelous singing voice; Mike Carona's suave, sophisticated appearance masked an evil intent to cheat, lie and steal. 

Our readiness to confuse exterior appearance with interior character is particularly risky in the context of our criminal justice system.  For example, jurors may arrive at incorrect verdicts if they evaluate expert witnesses' credibility based on their manner of speech and dress.  And police officers may pull drivers over based on seeming inconsistencies between their personal appearance and the make of car they are driving. 

Admittedly, outward appearances are far more easily observed than internal characters, and decision-making often has to proceed based on incomplete information.  However, the stories of Susan Boyle and Mike Carona should at least remind us always to check initial assumptions  before making decisions.  If this is true in life generally, it's especially important in a criminal justice system that can lock people up for years.