Our scales of justice are out of balance


by Dan Lucas

In the course of doing research recently, I had occasion to read a number of criminal histories. I was struck by the sense of entitlement the criminals had. They seemed to feel that it was OK for them to commit the most heinous crimes, including murder, but that everyone else had to follow every single rule — to the letter. The criminals would tie up our legal system with complaints that some rule had been broken or some technicality had been missed, and so they shouldn’t have to be in jail for the crime they committed.

It’s a sense of entitlement fostered by our legal system, where every possible consideration is given to the accused and their rights. Those same considerations are not given to the victims and their families and friends. The scales in our system of justice are out of balance.

One of the fundamental concepts in our system of criminal law is reasonable doubt — which has its roots in Sir William Blackstone’s ratio: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.” The flaw in this ratio was pointed out to me by an old friend who attended law school. If ten guilty people are allowed to go free, they will go on to cause suffering for many more innocent victims.

This same contrary opinion to Blackstone’s ratio was expressed by Al Gore’s 2000 VP running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman. In a 2003 interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Sen. Joe Lieberman relayed something he’d read: “If you show too much mercy to those who are cruel, you will end up being cruel to those who deserve mercy.”

This over emphasis of mercy for the accused results in some pretty horrific numbers. As I noted back in January, only 1-to-10% of child molestation crimes are ever disclosed and almost two thirds of sexual assaults are not reported to police. The Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) further reports that 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. These numbers are appalling. We should be ashamed of our legal system and our society.

It’s nice that people want to give someone like Woody Allen the benefit of the doubt, but where’s the benefit of the doubt for someone like Dylan Farrow?

The horrific numbers continue. TNT’s reality crime-solving show “Cold Justice” shows a stunning number at the start of each episode: “Nearly 200,000 homicides since 1980 remain unsolved.” The families and friends of all of those victims have to live not only with the terrible loss, but also the additional pain caused by the injustice and not knowing. And for the cases that are solved and successfully prosecuted, showing mercy to those who are cruel causes additional pain to the families and friends of victims in the form of dealing with murderabilia, reliving the nightmare by having to go before parole boards and legislatures to prevent early release, or dealing with taunting from the killers. Mercy for the killers can even lead to new victims — there are several cases of killers escaping from death row, including an instance in 1984 where six death row inmates escaped together.

We need to tip the scales of justice — in our laws and in our culture — towards being more in favor of innocent victims and their families and friends.

To read more from Dan, visit www.dan-lucas.com

  • Britt Storkson

    Excellent article, Dan. I could not agree more. Justice needs to treat both parties equally.

  • Ron Glynn

    Other states might have a problem with Parole Boards and Legislatures early releasing Convicted Murderers, but Oregon does not. Voters approved a law 20 years ago that requires a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years for a Murder Conviction. A convicted Murderer sentenced to prison in 1995 is still in prison now. Convicted Murderers prior to 1994 are subject to Parole Board rules in place prior for Life Sentences which were not true life sentences.

  • Bob Clark

    Good article, Dan.

  • Rob Harris

    In choosing between the wisdom of Sir William Blackstone and an old buddy who attended law school, you chose your old buddy?

    I personally expect that the mercy and justice dispensed by the State exceeds the mercy and justice displayed by criminals. Dan, if you’d like to get a more balanced perspective on the power of the State in criminal law, I would be happy to have a philosophical discussion about it with you.

  • Gus Fennerty

    I completely concur with Dan Lucas until the third paragraph. There is
    case after case where innocent folks have been convicted at trial or
    pleaded down to lesser charges due to the risk and expense of trial.
    The outcome of cases often seems to be based more on prejudices one way
    or the other of judges as well as the talent and/or cronyism of the
    lawyers rather than on truth or justice. Too often judges are
    politically well connected shysters with a black robe. The reported
    criminal behavior of a certain former governor demonstrates all to well the cronyism and corruption of Oregon’s legal system.

    • .

      One Harl Haas has gone down, how many more to go?

  • 3H

    So, since there seems to be a lack of specifics, needs to be changed and how? Does Dan want to do away with the presumption of innocence? Go back to the good old days when the police could beat a confession out of a “criminal”?

    I’ve seen some statements about fairness to both sides. The fact is, criminal trials for most people are rarely fair. The state has much greater access to resources than the vast majority of criminal defendants. The presumption of innocence, and the requirement that that state, through the offices of the police and the prosecutor, be required to treat a defendant as an innocent person is a very good thing.

    But, I’m willing to listen. What sort of changes should be made? How should the role of the victims of crime be changed for a trial? Why isn’t the fact that the state acts as an advocate for the victim good enough?

  • conseratively speaking

    I don’t know but I’ve been told,
    Oregon’s penal system has gone to mold,
    Seems death row inmates have more presents,
    Than perks compared attending outside peasants.

    And to wit, others incarcerated,
    Obfuscated or albeit smilingly understated,
    Exercise more comforts therein,
    Rivaling an Obama vacation, akin.

    Bottom line, unearned by any sound advice,
    Those adjudicated as errant scofflaw lice,
    Reap from US o’er their domain,
    $umthing nonsensical from our off-level parlay’n,

    Now bodes past time,
    To curb the sub-slime,
    An’ restore glory to common sensory,
    Vote Kitz and his kudos out to purgatory.