It was attorney Johnnie Cochran, during the O.J. Simpson trial, who coined the phrase "rush to judgment." Since then, dozens of other defense attorneys have used the line to try to slow down the condemnation of their clients.

It has proved to be a good ploy — partly because Americans are guilty of it.

People do rush to judgment.

The most recent case would be the news in the JonBenet Ramsey murder trial. After the initial days of the investigation, when the Ramseys "lawyered up," the country decided they were guilty. Patsy Ramsey went to her grave with the accusation hanging over her head. Now, sophisticated DNA evidence has cleared the family of wrongdoing.

Oops.

Sadly, the JonBenet case isn't an isolated incident. In a society where bombast rules on the radio and e-mailers can anonymously accuse whom they wish, Americans have grown accustomed to stoning others first and asking questions later.

For two years running, the Deseret News made "civility" a community goal — apparently without much success. People still insist on tarring each other before they have enough information.

In that sense, the plight of the Ramseys should serve as a cautionary tale. Times are volatile. Tempers are on edge. People are determined to hand out blame for everything from the war in Iraq to — literally — the price of tea in China. Placing the blame and finding fault have replaced baseball as the national pastime.

But let the Ramsey tragedy remind us to let cooler heads prevail, to let the facts seep out before we rush in.

It's been said the wheels of American justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. But such "millwork" takes time.

We urge patience and control. But more than that, we urge people to stop giving in to the impulse to lash out with knee-jerk condemnations. After all, anyone could well become the next John Ramsey, tarred and feathered, yet innocent.