Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A misconception of justice

One of the most common misconceptions of our criminal (in)justice system is that it's designed to mete out justice to both the citizen accused and the alleged victim.

Every time a police officer kills an unarmed black man we see signs demanding "justice" for the dead man. We hear crowds chanting "No justice, no peace!" We see interviews with grieving friends and family members calling out for justice for their loved one.

And while I am sympathetic to the pleas and to the tone of the requests, they are wholly misguided.

If you're seeking justice for a wrong committed by another person or institution, your proper remedy is found in the courthouse -- but on the civil side. That's what our civil courts are designed to do - to determine who's at fault for someone's injury to and award a cash judgment.

The criminal (in)justice system is designed to see that the accused receives a fair trial and that the defendant's rights under the Bill of Rights are protected while the state attempts to take his liberty away from him. At the end of the day the only thing a judge or jury can do is determine whether the state has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The only remedy the criminal court can offer is to restrict the defendant's liberty.

MADD is upset that Ethan Couch, the so-called victim of "affluenza" is being released from the Tarrant County Jail after cooling his heels for the past two years. Colleen Sheehy-Church, the president of MADD, claims the release of Mr. Couch is a "grave injustice" for his victims.

Sorry, ma'am, none of what goes on in a criminal court has anything to do with what you refer to as justice for the victim. Oh sure, the prosecutor will bring up the wishes of the victims (so long as they are in line with the DA's wishes), and the judge will bring it up during sentencing, but a criminal court is not capable of handing out justice to anyone other than the accused (if even that).

It is an ugly reality money can't compensate for the most of the harms we face. But that is all we have in our court system. Civil courts do have the power to order a person or company to do certain things - or to refrain from them - but that doesn't always make up for the harm one suffered.

I'm sorry for the loss the families of the victims suffered. There will forever be a hole in their lives - a hole that can never be refilled. But locking someone up behind bars for longer than the sentence requires isn't justice. There is also the fact that Mr. Couch was a teen when he got drunk and caused an accident that killed four people. That's not an excuse - but it is a mitigating factor.

Unfortunately state legislatures are only too eager to court those who think the criminal courts ignore the victims of crime so we have bad law upon bad law that create so-called victim's bill of rights and place draconian bond conditions on those merely accused of committing a crime.

When victim's advocates stomp and scream about justice what they are really saying is that the accused should receive a harsh sentence with no consideration of mitigating factors or the need for treatment or counseling. Their solution is always to lock more people up for longer periods of time.

That's not justice. It's retaliation.

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