Note: All references to legal rules are either U.S. ones or Tennessee ones. This is because at the time that this Silly Song came out, the studio was based in Nashville. And what are the odds that there are TWO towns populated by anthropomorphic vegetables?
Bumblyburg has some really scary legal practices.
The first relevant line in that video was Larry’s, “Spilling soda’s not a crime; if it is, I’ll do time.” He’s factually wrong with that conditional, but it’s just a figure of speech. Nothing to see here.
Cue the judge.
Order! Order, in the court! I judge you the clumsy sort. By the dictates of our law I sentence you to safety straws.
Larry’s entire trial takes about thirteen seconds, counting the ominous pauses. Not cool. He never had a chance to defend himself, and he never got a lawyer or a jury or anything else like that. But the worst part is, what is he even on trial for?
Based on Larry’s figure of speech earlier, this is meant to be a criminal prosecution. He’s not suing the restaurant to prevent them from giving him the titular tableware, and this isn’t an appeal up the chain of command. (Because of course “judge” comes after “maitre d’.” Obviously.) It’s pretty clearly supposed to be a criminal trial. Especially since criminal charges are the only things that actually result in sentencing. I’m not going to say Larry’s sentence was disproportionate to his behavior, but there were some pretty severe irregularities.
Start with the thing that is not a problem: No jury.
Larry doesn’t have a right to a jury in this case. He only automatically gets one if the crime is punishable by six months in prison, which this isn’t. A few states do include that right for small offenses, but Tennessee is not one of them. So, despite appearances, there’s no problem with lack of jury. But there are quite a few problems, any one of which could give him a winning appeal.
Thing One: What were the charges?
Larry appears to be on trial for whether he’s going to spill. If that’s the charge, these proceedings are very questionable. Maybe we could give the Bumblyburg legal system the benefit of the doubt, and assume that a) Spilling soda is in fact a crime in this jurisdiction, and b) they were accusing him of some specific instance of spillage in the past. Or however many counts of it, based on the number of spills since the statute of limitations kicked in. But without the judge saying what he’s guilty of, this is a problem.
Thing Two: Where is the judge getting his information?
The judge just appeared out of nowhere and convicted Larry at the drop of a gavel. Perhaps the judge saw the whole thing and was convicting Larry based on his own knowledge, but that would also be an issue. A judge can never preside and act as a witness in the same case. This is so bad that it is one of the things where an appeals court can overturn the trial even if no lawyer makes an objection. (This is convenient for Larry since he didn’t get a lawyer.)
Thing Three: No lawyer.
Larry should get a lawyer. Period. It’s a criminal charge, so he’s entitled to a defense. There wasn’t a prosecutor either, so at least it went both ways, but that doesn’t exactly help. Larry is just going to accept what the judge hands down, because he doesn’t know there are rules keeping loose cannon judges like this guy in line. There are all kinds of cases about why you need a defense lawyer, what kind of lawyer, how much lawyer, and so on. No lawyer is not really an option, and we didn’t see Larry waive his right.
Thing Four: No actual evidence.
This one is a bad case of prosecutorial epic fail. They have a room full of witnesses and some written records, and they didn’t bother using any of it in the trial. So Larry never got a chance to refute it, let alone offer his own evidence. This kind of undermines the entire point of a trial, and that’s not even an exaggeration. They could have proven him guilty; there was more than enough evidence for that. But they didn’t. Fortunately, there’s another issue: Since it’s not on the record, then when Larry appeals the decision the higher court will see that the lower one used no evidence whatsoever to convict. Could they have done it any worse?
Thing Five: Improper use of character evidence.
What exactly were the facts that the judge used against Larry? None. Just “I judge you the clumsy sort.” This is using a character trait to establish conformity therewith on particular occasions. It’s saying that since he’s a clumsy kind of guy, he therefore must be guilty of spilling on whatever particular incidents he’s accused of. This is exactly how you are supposed to avoid using character evidence, and it’s that judge’s job to make sure it doesn’t get used that way. Fail. Since Larry was convicted on literally no other evidence except this, the appellate judge would have to grant the appeal for this reason, too.
Larry isn’t going to get off on a technicality; he’s going to get off on all the technicalities. Fortunately, he didn’t have to bother with the appeal because a phone call from the governor put everything right.
Thing Six: the pardon.
First of all, a stay of execution* comes from a court, not a governor. Not a hugely important mistake, considering this scans better. What governors can actually do is pardon people. This is good news for Larry; it means that not only does the punishment get cancelled (and permanently), but the crime is officially both forgiven and forgotten. If it ever comes up again, he doesn’t have a record of a prior conviction for spilling.
The down side is that this legal system is terrifying. You can just be minding your own business or trying to convince someone to do you a favor, and then BAM! A judge comes out of nowhere and convicts you for something you didn’t know was a crime. I hate it when that happens to me. The only way out is if the governor personally pardons you within the thirteen seconds it takes for the trial. He probably spends all day waiting by the phone in case he needs to undo this judge’s latest exploit.
The only way it would be worse than having the law enforced hilariously unevenly would be if they actually did apply it to everyone. Any crime of the magnitude of spilling soda or worse is automatically prosecuted and punished with no defense. The only way you can escape it is by knowing the governor. This is not a friendly legal system.
*Execution refers to execution of the sentence, not necessarily to the death penalty. Literal execution was never supposed to be on the table in this case. But then, neither was the grape juice.
Note: I flipped a coin to decide what pronouns to use for the governor, since it’s never specified in the Silly Song. It came up female. But then I realized that if VeggieTales were to have a generic political authority figure, they would cast Archibald Asparagus, Mr. Nezzer, or Madame Blueberry. Only Archibald hadn’t already been shown, so I decided he was the governor and used male pronouns.