What is justice and does it matter?
Updated: Aug 18, 2020
Looking deeper at what it means and why it should matter to all of us.
As a writer of crime fiction, I’m addicted to listening to the news, and there are certain stories that seem to resonate with me. So was the case for a story which aired on March 23, 2015, titled “Prosecutor Apologizes for Putting Innocent Man on Death Row”.
Those who have worked in the criminal justice field know this to be an unspoken truth. Not everyone serving time is guilty, and not everyone who got acquitted of a charge is innocent.
Guilty or innocent, when a crime happens and a suspect is determined, the first question posed is rather or not said individual is innocent or guilty, but in the large scope of things, does it really matter?
I’ve had to deal with this question for years. Fiction and Hollywood always tries to make it out that good always wins, the innocent will not be punished for something that he hasn’t been done. But reality is indeed something different. Although there are no perfect crimes, imperfect people deal with overworked case loads, faulty evidence and often the man or woman believed to be guilty actually has no evidence to prove his innocence — what do you do when you have no alibi and everyone says you did a crime you truly didn’t do?
Not everyone convicted of a crime has indeed committed it, and not everyone who has walked away Scott free is innocent.
Unfortunately, this is a matter that has plagued the criminal justice system for ages. While many of the incarcerated are behind bars due to false witness statements, the misidentifying of suspects, contaminated evidence, and even those willing to plant evidence for a conviction, there are also other missteps that lead to false convictions, including police quotas, underpaid staffing, lazy attorneys and even racial bias. Basic human error (and our being fallible) has led to many individuals receiving a raw deal, spending often decades of their lives paying for a crime they never committed.
Our justice system is broken and many of the laws enacted make it difficult for those innocent of a crime to indeed prove their innocence, although they technically don’t have to (as one is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty). It is an uphill battle, but one that I believe can still be won, when the right tools are not only known, but also used to the benefit of the convicted.
Unfortunately, life is not a mystery novel, and the clues don’t always line up. Yet, it is my hope that as more experienced hands from the field of criminal justice step forward, and as more not-guilty souls are released from their iron clad cells, that we as a society will come to understand that justice isn’t black or white; instead, it is often many different shades of gray. What is your take on things? What is justice and does it really matter if it is served?