THE case of United States v George Huang and William Chen, opens two windows, one on to the workings of the American justice system, the other on to the burgeoning business of peddling false deeds to the American dream in mainland China. As I write, I am waiting to hear the verdict. The 12 ladies and gentlemen of the jury are likely to render their decision soon. While we stand by, let me tell you about the trial. Here is the dramatis personae: Chen (aka ''Little Fatso''), 45, favours dark, double-breasted suits and white socks. He listens impassively to the proceedings with the help of a Mandarin translator. Huang, 42, who has curly black hair and a moustache, always looks a little worried, even when he smiles. Naturalised US citizens born in Taiwan, both have been charged with conspiring to smuggle 150 Chinese men by boat from Fujian Province into the United States. Defending them is Stephen Flamhaft, Esq, a middle-aged Brooklyn lawyer whose accent is stronger than his case. He compensates with bluster and bravado. Representing the government is Assistant District Attorney Michael Gertzman, clean cut, earnest, prematurely grey. And presiding over the courtroom is the Honourable Robert Patterson, a gentleman judge who flips the chain on his glasses over his head whenever he gets annoyed with Mr Flamhaft, which is often. The first day of the trial is taken with jury selection and the presentation of opening arguments. Judge Patterson is excruciatingly polite and thorough as he works his way through an endless series of questions designed to weed out anyone from the pool of about 70 potential jurors who might be biased. When it becomes apparent that the judge will not challenge anyone demurring, at least 20 people - eager to get off the hook - disqualify themselves within the first 15 minutes. I begin to wonder if enough will remain to fill out the jury box. But, amazingly, the suspect excuses stop. Serving on a jury is an onerous, time-consuming chore. And yet here are 50 citizens willing to fulfil their civic duty. Almost half black, half white, half men, half women, the jury is empanelled. To start things off, the prosecutor's assistant set up a world map and traces with his finger the most recent journey of the Chin Wing No 18, a mid-sized Taiwanese fishing trawler jointly owned by Huang and Chen. Picking up its human cargo off the coast on Guangdong on April 26, 1992, the boat embarked on a perilous, four-month odyssey - frequently breaking down along the way - from China, to Mauritius, around the southern tip of Africa, across the south Atlantic, along the coast of Brazil, to Haiti and then, finally, to US waters off North Carolina. It was a rough passage. All 150 passengers, mostly men between the age of 21 and 35, were crammed into the refrigeration compartment of the boat for much of the trip. ''Alien smuggling'', as the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service calls it, from China has become a billion dollar business. The passengers of the Chin Wing were to pay between US$25,000 and US$30,000 for their passage. But that is more than a lifetime's earnings in China, so most could only put down a deposit of five to 10 per cent. The balance owing was to be paid through four or five years of hard labour - in a restaurant, a garment factory, an assembly line - somewhere in an American Chinatown. Unless, of course, one is willing to join the criminal gangs of drug dealers and enforcers who break legs and bash heads to keep other debtors in line. ''Dishwashing or drug running - that's the basic choice,'' as one law enforcement officer put it. The US Government is especially eager to win this case because the number and size of ships loaded with Chinese men bound for America has increased dramatically in the last year. One ship, the East Wood, was carrying 500 would-be immigrants when it floundered in the mid-Pacific. Mr Gertzman calls an impressive array of witnesses to establish that Huang and Chen entered into a conspiracy to smuggle the illegal immigrants into the US. He accumulates a small mountain of circumstantial evidence. But he doesn't have a smoking gun. There was no contract. None of the passengers gave any money directly to the defendants. Nor did Huang or Chen ever tell them, in so many words, they were going to the US. The captain of the ship, who pleaded guilty ina separate trial, refused to testify. Which is why, as the defence presents its case, the phrase ''beyond a shadow of a doubt'' begins to reverberate in the courtroom. For the burden of proof, in the American system of justice, rests entirely with the accuser, not the defendant. If the evidence is not conclusive - if there is the slightest doubt - the defendant must be set free. Gut feelings don't count. Were Huang and Chen setting up a fishing and farming business in Haiti, as they claim? They had, after all, done business there before. Were they duped by their own agent who, unbeknownst to them, lured workers on board the Chin Wing with promises of passage to the United States? Was there, as one of the crew members testified, a quasi-mutiny on board in which the passengers forced the ship into US waters? All highly improbably. But impossible? The jury has been deliberating for about six hours. Let's check in on their progress . . . Yes, there is a verdict: guilty as charged. Judge Patterson sets a date for sentencing in May. But despite the fact that Huang's and Chen's crime endangered the lives of 150 men, and despite the amount of money involved, the maximum penalty possible under the law is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. That's one reason the problem of ''alien smuggling'' is likely to get worse before it gets better. Consider this: Huang and Chan do two or three years and pay their fine. In the meantime, the passengers - who have all asked for political asylum - are working off their debts in New York's Chinatown under the watchful eye of underworld enforcers. When Huang and Chen get out of jail, their money and their wives will probably be waiting for them.