Thursday, June 28, 2007

Blogversation: Does the Criminal Justice System Meet Victims' (or Anybody's) Needs?

With all the talk of victim's rights and restorative justice, I was interested to read this post by Houston defense lawyer Mark Bennett reacting to a prosecutor's email and this Grits post. From Bennett's observation, if the criminal justice system meets anyone's needs, including the victim, it's usually only by accident. He writes:
Do you suppose that those victims who want retribution (their idea of justice) feel that justice has been delivered when (because of police or prosecutorial error, for example) their attackers go free? The criminal "justice" system is not there to provide a forum -- or anything else -- to the victims. Witness how often the wishes of complaining witnesses are disregarded by proescutors. If it happens that the criminal "justice" system satisfies some need of some human being, it's mere coincidence. Anyone who expects it to do so or has faith that it will doesn't understand the system.

Clarence Darrow said:
We have heard talk of justice. Is there anybody who knows what justice is? No one on earth can measure out justice. Can you look at any man and say what he deserves -- whether he deserves hanging by the neck until dead or life in prison or thirty days in prison or a medal? The human mind is blind to all who seek to look in at it and to most of us that look out from it. Justice is something that man knows little about. He may know something about charity and understanding and mercy, and he should cling to those as far as he can.
I suppose that if I had to be a prosecutor I would have to believe that people can know what justice is. I would further have to believe, hubristically, that I knew who should be "held accountable" for what transgressions, and how. The prosecutorial venture would seem entirely hollow otherwise. But -- thank God I'm a defender -- I know that Darrow was right.

In a perfect world, I would want to see a criminal justice system based on restoration -- making whole the people who are hurt -- rather than retribution. In such a system I could comfortably operate on either side, working to heal victims as well as offenders. But that's not the system we have.


Unknown said...

Crime victims would be better served by laws that reduced the number of crime victims - like drug legalization - than mandatory minimums. With mandatory minimums they pay double: as crime victims and as citizen taxpayers.

Legalization would severely reduce the amount of total crime: it costs less to maintain a 10 buck a day addiction than a 150 buck a day addiction. It would significantly reduce the number of those committing crimes since banned drugs are the lever for criminals to reach underage children who would have scant access to the more potent designer drugs created by drug laws.
Legalization would effectively reduce the amount of police dishonesty and intrusion in private lives of the indigent and improve relations with low income communities. Less corruption would necessarily mean more accurate convictions with fewer felons escaping justice because alternative suspects were convicted instead.
IF we had fewer people in jails we could seriously impose harsher sentences on chronic offenders like pedophiles and people who drive despite license revocation due to chronic DUIL. It would be a LOT safer world for people who happen to live near dangerous people.

Anonymous said...

There is no justice in Texas. Until some of the corrupt Judges and DA's are removed from office, there is no chance of anything changing.

Texas has the most corrupt system in the USA and that is not a title I like to hear. When you vote the next time, remember change is what we need and not the same old story and some Judge and DA's need to prove how superior they are to the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this opportunity. Speaking as a victim of our justice systems, both Federal & State. The Criminals are treated much better than the victims. With many, many opportunities the feds failed & the state of Texas knew but did nothing. Two federal banckruptsey judges actually got into a pissing contest over jurisdiction. The sentencing federal Judge, Barefoot Sanders actually treated the felon better than he did the victims. An armed federal marshall was actually placed between the victims & the criminal. etc. etc. Please excuse my anger.

Mark Bennett said...

Thanks for the mention. I just noticed that I had misformatted the Darrow quote so that it appeared to go on longer than it should have. Darrows words ended with "as he can;" the rest are mine.

I have to agree with the anonymous commenter: change is what we need. I'm not sure that changing the players without retooling the whole system would result in "justice," but it'd be a good start.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Fixed it. Thx Mark