April 2, 2014

Sweet Juicy Justice

I've waffled on before about how the criminal justice system really isn't about "justice" all that much, in the end, at least.  Over at a public defender, Gideon examines that concept in relation to a trio of high-profile cases in the news recently.

One is the story of an heir to the du Pont family fortune, Robert H. Richards, IV, who received no (active) prison time after pleading guilty to sexually abusing his three-year old daughter, which is causing outrage because the sentencing judge indicated that the guy "will not fare well" in prison.  No kidding.

Another is the story of a guy who murdered a doctor during a robbery gone bad.  He "had a long history of delusions about communicating directly with God," which some folks might find just a bit crazy.  He was convicted anyway, partly based on logic (loosely defined) like this:
'He’s sick, but I feel like he knew what he was doing,' said a juror, Dana Torres, 27, a construction worker. 'For me, if he had said Satan told him to do this, it would have been a different story.'

Finally, there's the story of a homeless woman who left her children in her car while she went inside for a job interview.  She was arrested for child endangerment.

Is there a common thread that runs among these cases?  Gideon says:
The three stories are disparate and the memes surrounding each are indisputably different, but don’t be fooled: they are, at essence, about one thing – the utter uselessness of our prisons and the inability of our justice system to hand out anything that should remotely be considered 'justice'.
He's right.  At best, the system is designed to provide something vaguely like justice most of the time, through a procedural scheme that applies in every case.  But no system is perfect (consider just the human element) and even if it does well enough in the mine-run of cases, it won't work all the time.  Getting "justice" in every case would require wide discretion and constantly shifting standards that would make anybody nervous.

Gideon also does a good job digging into the facts of the first case, which are much more complicated than most media screamers indicate.  And, anyway, the meaning is lost in the shouting:
That’s not to say that there isn’t a problem with wealth. Mr. Richards got to go home because he needed treatment and he was able to afford to go to a clinic in MA to get that.
The real take[a]way from this should be not that Mr. Richards got a break, but that he got fair treatment for himself because he was rich and thus, there are hundreds who deserve the same but can’t get it because they are poor.
He goes into even more detail about the case and the outcome here.

While I'm harrumphing Gideon, I want to point out another thing he says:
As I’ve said repeatedly, prisons aren’t a fun place at all. They’re miserable, dank, scary and smell of piss and shit and blood and tears. I’d probably try to kill myself within the first 24 hours and who are you kidding, so would you.
A thousand times this.  Anybody who talks nonsense about how good inmates have it or about "country club" prisons has never been in one or talked to anybody who has.  Which is one reasons why, sometimes, it's so hard to figure out just what "justice" is.

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