BOXING – Antonio Margarito’s (38-6) request for a new boxing license was denied by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) by a vote of 5-1 on Wednesday. This dissenting column defends the Mexican boxer under the legal doctrines of “presumption of innocence” as well as the “reasonable person” test, both of which should have over-ridden CSAC’s chosen doctrine of “strict liability.”
Conceptions of justice and ethics are different from popularity or a populist stance. Because a person decides to take a popular, crowd-pleasing route does not make it the right thing to do. Otherwise, one could argue that feeding Christians to the lions in ancient Roman coliseums was a good thing to do because it was popular with Roman citizens. Illogical.
Popularity and moral worth are two very distinct notions.
In preventing Margarito from earning a livelihood in California, and in further damaging his reputation, CSAC imposed a doctrine of “strict liability” on Margarito, holding the “Tijuana Tornado” responsible for both his physical self and equipment. Margarito’s trainer, Javier Capetillo, has since been fired by Margarito and also has been suspended from the sport. The boxer relied on his trainer to properly wrap his hand. Does this make Margarito liable for Capetillo’s actions?
I M A G E S > Antonio Margarito vs Shane Mosley
The California Code of Regulations, Boxing Rule 390 states, “Any licensee who conducts himself or herself at any time or place in a manner which is deemed by the commission to reflect discredit to boxing may have his or her license revoked, or may be fined, suspended, or otherwise disciplined in such manner as the commission may direct.”
Capetillo was clearly in charge of hand-wrapping Antonio Margarito’s hands prior to the fighter’s bout with Shane Mosley (46-6). (The fight took place in January 2009 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.) Many boxers simply outsource this task to an expert trainer, as they choose instead to mentally focus for the impending fight.
It is a common industry practice for boxers to rely on expert trainers and experts assistants to put on their hand wraps and boxing gloves. That fact should be re-established among boxing fans and CSAC. A trainer could insert illegal substances without the fighter’s knowledge.
“Reasonable Person” Test >
Because fighters rely on experts in the handling of their equipment, we believe that practice passes what courts often use as the “reasonable person” test. If an ordinary sports fan wrapped Margarito’s hands prior to the Mosley bout, and Margarito did not double check or inspect the wraps, then in our view CSAC and other state commissions would be correct in banning the boxer from the sport.
In that instance, a reasonable person would either not allow a non-expert to conduct the hand wraps. And in a highly unlikely scenario in which a non-expert would wrap the hands, a reasonable person would want to first do an inspection given the gravity of his undertaking (a 12 round fight).
That did not happen in this case. Javier Capetillo is considered an expert in his craft. A reasonable person would accept and trust the expert’s handwrap job to have been done correctly. Just as you would trust that Ford Motor Company has installed properly working brakes in your vehicle. Just as you, a reasonable person, would trust that Burger King did not put poison in your Double Whopper.
A reasonable person relies on experts. Trust is a critical grease that enables society to function. Without reasonable reliance on experts, society breaks down into a state of anarchy. You would not buy cars because you do not trust Ford to have installed good brakes. You would not buy hamburgers from Burger King because of an illogical fear of food poisoning. Practiced on a mass scale (the law of universality), the global economy would collapse, and governments would run out of tax revenue – ceasing critical functions, on and on . . .
In applying the “reasonable person” test, a customer should be absolved of the expert vendor’s error, and thus absolved of liability. Reliance on an expert should not be a punishable wrong (so long as there was no negligence).
When actor Brandon Lee (son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee) was killed in 1993 while shooting a movie, the film’s production crew made a mistake with the props. The team placed blanks in a gun, but a live primer still discharged from the gun and shot and killed Brandon Lee.
If Margarito is responsible for the illegal substance, was Brandon Lee also responsible for his own death? Let’s explore logic. Should we arrive at the conclusion that it was a suicide? No. The death was ruled an accident, and no one from the production team was ever charged with any crime.
Brandon Lee, an actor, relied on experts to do their job. They didn’t in this case. Humans make mistakes. But a reasonable person who have relied on the production team to have properly managed the props, in this case, a gun. It would be wrong to blame Brandon Lee for his own death because he got shot. It was an accident.
Presumption of Innocence >
Secondly, the doctrine of “presumption of innocence” is perhaps the most basic pillar of the American justice and legal system. It is codified in several provisions of the U.S. Constitution such as the right to remain silent, the right to a jury, and the 5th Amendment which preserves an individual’s right against self-incrimination.
Presumption of innocence is not merely a legal doctrine in one country’s justice system, it is a guiding moral compass for the very conception of justice itself. It is a high principle, bestowing social values upon a society. Its authoritative context traces its lineage to old English jurisprudence, and is now referred to as common law.
In short, presumption of innocence is not to be taken for granted. It is a beacon of light. Without its practice and moral efficacy, you have the Gestapo of Nazi Germany and the Soviet gulags where tens of thousands died based on unproven, often faulty, presumptions.
It is a principle that requires the government to prove the guilt of a criminal defendant and relieves the defendant of any burden to prove his or her innocence. It’s the same with the Mayweather’s misguided, and perhaps illegal, drug accusations against Manny Pacquiao. Why blame Pacquiao for not taking tests not required by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC)?
Presumption of innocence is a principle of justice, together with the “reasonable person” test, that should have over-ridden CSAC’s doctrine of “strict liability.” CSAC should have looked to other legal doctrines, aside from the one they ultimately chose (“strict liability” on behalf of the boxer).
Former trainer Javier Capetillo himself said that he does not want Margarito ruined as a result of Capetillo’s sole actions. Why automatically exact punishment on Margarito without the presumption of innocence? Whether or not Margarito knew beforehand of Capetillo’s actions is a moot point. It misses the mark completely. A justice system that presumes guilt is an ineffective one.
It is a common industry practice to rely on experts. A reasonable person would have relied on an expert regarding his equipment, as many boxers do. Just look at how many dozens of people manage and carry equipment for Filipino opponent Manny Pacquiao? Does Pacquiao know what is going on with his boxing equipment 24 hours a day? Of course not.
CSAC should assume Antonio Margarito’s innocence prior to stripping him of his ability to earn a livelihood and to support his family. Because of CSAC’s actions on Wednesday, Margarito – as a fighter, and as a man – could be ruined, forever. And they may have violated many basic tenets of its own country’s legal system.
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