Review of You Don’t Know Jack

Review of You Don’t Know Jack written by Adam Mazer and directed by Barry Levinson
rating ****

This is the story of Jack Kevorkian and his efforts to promote physician assisted suicides. Al Pacino plays Kevorkian. John Goodman plays the medical equipment supplier who assists Kevorkian once his medical license is revoked. Susan Sarandon also stars as an advocate of assisted suicides and eventually is faced with having to make the decision for herself.

Most people are familiar with this story, at least the version told by the media. Al Pacino does a convincing job in his portrayal, especially in the final court scene.

This film is noteworthy on a number of fronts. First, there is the subject matter. There will always be people on both sides of this issue. I lean on the side of Kevorkian. I do feel that people should have the right to make that decision. And as the film points out, he turned down over 95% of the requests that he had.

What I learned from this film, though, was just how badly he got screwed by the  justice system. I know from the media that he was eventually convicted of second degree murder and went to prison. I also knew that he had represented himself at trial. What I didn’t know was how the judge in the case and the prosecutors used his lack of legal knowledge to deny him an opportunity to put up a proper defense. I always assumed that he had simply gone too far and that he was punished accordingly. The truth is that the prosecutor and judge were so bent on winning a victory that they went out of their way to take eight and half years of this man’s life, while at the same time real criminals plea bargain for sentences half that time.

Here’s how they did it. Kevorkian had been charged and tried four previous times. He won every trial with the help of lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, played by Danny Huston, by having the family members testifying and by showing videos of the person first stating their intent and then showing them releasing the gas or fluids that ended their lives. It was powerful stuff and no jury would or could convict him based on that kind of evidence.

Kevorkian, however, in his attempt to further his agenda, made some miscalculations. His goal was to have the issue addressed once and for all by the Supreme Court. To do this he had to go to trial again. This time he decided that he would go beyond assisted suicide where the patient performed the final act and he did it himself. He then went on national TV and bragged about it, daring the prosecutor to charge him. Which, of course, they did. But Kevorkian had a bit of arrogance and decided he didn’t need a lawyer at trial. He wanted to address the jury himself.

Knowing that the videos and testimony of family members would probably allow Kevorkian to prevail at trial once again, even with him representing himself, the judge ruled that the family members couldn’t testify nor could the videos be played for the jurors. The judge stated that since the charge of assisted suicide had been dropped, their testimony was no longer relevant. I don’t know where this judge or prosecutor went to law school, but even I know that if you are charged with second degree murder you have a right to have an eyewittness to the alleged crime testify as to what they saw. It is inconceivable to me that a judge would make such a ridiculous statement as to say that their testimony was irrelevant.

Then to make matters worse, once Kevorkian began to question witnesses, the prosecutor would object every time Kevorkian would ask a question. The judge, who apparently wanted to make an example out of Kevorkian because of his audacity to want to defend himself, sustained every objection, leaving Kevorkian unable to argue his position. They used his arrogance and lack of legal knowledge to win a victory and a sentence of ten to twenty-five years. Then the judge had to give him a lecture about how he was not above the law. Give me a break. Where was the law when they used it against a man whose only goal was to help those whose pain and suffering had reached a point that they could no longer tolerate? Al Pacino’s portrayal of that last court scene captured perfectly the bemusement that Kevorkian must have had.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the case. I guess they had more important issues like whether you have the right to burn a flag or say the pledge of allegiance.

The DVD had interviews with the real people. Put this one in your queue.

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