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What is Justice For? – A Ponder

When I watch this video a lot goes through my mind. Below I share my ponder. It isn’t meant to draw any conclusions but rather to just share my mind. What the video shows is a very complex thing. For most of the comments I’ve seen on it people are focused on one exchange between the judge and suspect. The suspect at one point during sentencing said, “I don’t have time for this.” The judge then sentenced him to 65 years in prison. He reminded the young man of his earlier comment about not having time and said, “You got plenty of time for this. When I called the case earlier you said you ain’t got time for this, so I didn’t know if you had time for this now?” Quite the zinger!

Then the other thing people comment on is that the defendant laughed at this. Perhaps his laughter was callousness and not caring or perhaps he realized the judge had zinged him pretty well. I don’t know. Should a judge take a person’s attitude into account when sentencing? Or should sentencing be done by the jury?

But I see something deeper here. A young man of 15 – yes, that’s how old he was at the time of the crime – was tried under an accomplice law. Meaning he didn’t pull the trigger but was part of it. Such laws, sometimes called “felony murder rule” are used when a person commits a felony crime and someone is killed during the commission, or fleeing from the commission, of that crime. This can be a car crash caused during a pursuit or it can even be when the police shoot one of the criminals. If you and your buddy rob a store and the police shoot your buddy, under this rule you are charged with your buddy’s murder.

The crime spree was committed by a gang of thugs who robbed, stole, and harmed. Going back to attitude, they didn’t give any indication that they cared. If society is created to provide protection then it is hard to see how criminals who don’t care should remain in that society. We lock them away because we are pretty sure they would do this again if they weren’t and to punish them for what they have done. But I can’t help but wonder if that is the best course of action for people so young. If he serves his entire 65 years it means he will die in prison. Taking someone’s freedom away, even for a short time, is one of the most drastic things a society can do short of execution. If we lived in a world where it was possible I would support exile instead. But we don’t live in that kind of world. No other nation would want the people America kicks out for felonies any more than America wants them.

I see wasted potential when I look at the suspect. That makes me sad. It makes me wonder if 65 years in prison is really justice. It makes me wonder what justice is for. What I mean by that is literally asking the question. What is it we hope to get out of justice? We generally think of it as what is fair. So a person does something wrong and it’s only fair that they should be punished for it. That makes a lot of sense. That’s especially true in more easy to quantify cases. For example, if someone steals a candy bar. They can pay back the cost of it or they can work until the amount is paid off, or if they can’t do that or if that hasn’t worked they can spend an amount of time in jail commensurate with the value of that candy bar. It’s easier to figure justice when what is lost is property and property can have set values or at least reasonable ones. But what is the value of a life? We who support liberty tend to think life has infinite value. It is priceless. Having life is a right. So how can you put a price on someone being robbed of their very existence on this planet?

But in a case like this one, the individual did not take a life. He was simply there when someone else did. Is it justice then to lock him away for 65 years? My gut tells me it’s not. My mind tells me it’s a sure way society won’t have to worry about him. My emotions tell me he can be saved.

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