Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Justice: easier to define, harder to implement

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the grand jury decision not to indict the police officer and the cries that justice had not been done got me thinking what is justice? The legal definition of justice is the constant and perpetual disposition to render every man his due. In other words, justice is about fairness and moral rightness. In our legal system, it is the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals. How do we know when justice has been done? How do we know that the right person was punished?

The image of Lady Justice is a combination of the Roman goddess Justitia and the Greek goddess Themis. She is depicted with a set of scales in her right hand which she measures the strengths of a case’s support and opposition. In her left hand, she holds a double-edged sword which symbolizes the power of Reason and Justice that may be wielded either for or against any party. The Roman and Greek goddesses aren’t blindfolded as Lady Justice is today. The blindfold first appears in the 15th century to represent objectivity. Justice is to be handed out without fear or favor, regardless of identity, wealth, power or weakness.

But is justice really handed out regardless of identity, wealth, power or weakness? No, it isn’t. There are countless of examples where the rich and powerful were able to use the system in order to get what they want. For example, all the rights regarding trials given to us in the Bill of Rights aren’t really given to all citizens. Depending on the crime and the wealth of the defendant, many cases are pushed through the system. One reason being that the court’s dockets are so full that there isn’t enough time to give every case the full extent of the legal rights. Another reason is most defendants don’t have the money to hire an attorney who can effectively argue their case. There are also examples of being rich and powerful is a strike against regardless if any wrongdoing was actually done. For example, the civil lawsuits against big corporations with depictions of the fat cat executives who don’t care that their products are harmful. Is this image true? Sometimes it is and sometimes it is not.

Is justice served because one side got the outcome they wanted? Or is justice served because the wrongdoer got the punishment he or she deserved? According to one article, the goal of justice is make the victim feel equal or whole again (Edmonds July 6, 2010). How does one make the victim feel whole again through the legal system? I can’t imagine the anguish of a family who has lost someone through the actions of someone else. But how does the legal system make them whole again? This is why I believe in this statement: “Justice remains a hard topic to pin down because people often disagree over what they deserve and whether they’ve received it” (Edmonds July 6, 2010). Is justice subjective instead of objective?

In conclusion, our criminal justice system is fallible. It’s fallible because it was designed and is carried out by humans. A human is on the bench as judge, humans serve as attorneys, witnesses and jurors. Humans are fallible. Humans will lie, cheat and forget. I hear the outcry over the Ferguson case and I see the destruction that was caused over the decision. How does violence get the justice you think you deserve? As Pope John Paul II said, “Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.” Can justice truly be attained? Alfred Nobel didn’t think so, he said “justice is found only in the imagination.” Is justice one of those ideas which will only exist in a perfect society?

Edmonds, Molly. “What is justice?” 06 July 2010 www.howstuffworks.con date retrieved 25 November 2014