Thursday, July 7, 2011

Justice - Ramblies

This had been on my mind lately and it's not really a surprise. We've been glued to the tv around here because of the Casey Anthony murder trial. For those who may not know what I'm talking about, Casey Anthony is a 25 year old Florida woman who was accused of murdering her 2 year old daughter, Caylee Anthony back in 2008. She was found not guilty on the three 'big' charges, where were Murder 1, Aggravated Manslaughter and Aggravated Child Abuse. She was found guilty on four counts of lying to a law enforcement officer, each count carrying a maximum sentence of 1 year in prison, plus a fine. The judge sentenced her to 1 year for each count, to be served consecutively, not concurrently, plus a $1,000 fine, per count. Of course, since she's already been in prison for a year and a half, along with time off for 'good behavior', what that boils down to is that she will possibly be out of prison at the end of July, beginning of August.

It's a rough case, not only because of the age of the victim and the utterly bizarre and unsympathetic behavior of the mother. Caylee's body wasn't found right away. By the time it was found, in December of '08, there was nothing left but the skeleton. No cause of death was ever definitively found and the evidence that the prosecution had to present was entirely circumstantial. While I don't agree with the jury's verdict, I understand that they had to vote the way they did. The burden of the prosecution is to *prove*, beyond a 'reasonable doubt' their case, their assertions. And they did a good job with what little they had. They painted a scenario that made a lot of sense. However, a good, logical story isn't proof. And that was the problem, in the end.

So Casey Anthony goes free, whether it's in a week or in a month or whatever. And we will never know the truth of what happened. Maybe the defense's story is true. Maybe it was a terrible accident and the family, panicking, did some really bizarre things and made an accident look like a murder. Truth generally is stranger than fiction, and I have to say, from what I've seen from the trial, the entire family is unhinged and not quite 'normal'.

But the thing that keeps coming up is people saying that there was no 'justice' done here. And I guess that depends on how you're defining 'justice'.

From the dictionary (though there are, of course, multiple definitions, there are the most relevant, imo): '5.
the administering of deserved punishment or reward. 6. the maintenance or administration of what is just by law, as by judicial or other proceedings: a court of justice.'
Given the evidence that was presented, was 'what is just by law' administered in this case? Yes. No one *proved* that Casey Anthony did anything to harm her daughter. Does it *look* terrible that (under the defense's version of events) she helped her father fake a murder and hide the body of her daughter, who had died accidentally in the family pool? Yes. Of course it does. But people do stupid, stupid things all the time. And Casey Anthony is, near as I can figure, a compulsive liar. Lying, when you're like that, is more natural than telling the truth. But none of that proves that she killed her daughter. In which case, the first definition, that of the administration of either punishment or reward, according to the actions of the person in question has also been served. Or will be, once she's served whatever sentence is left to her. So far as I can see, justice, under these definitions, has been served.
It becomes even more clear if you look at a legal dictionary: '1a:  the quality of being just, impartial, or fair justice or injustice…of these lawsScott v. Sanford , 60 U.S. 393 (1857); b: the principle or ideal of just dealing; also : conformity to the principle or ideal of just dealing 2a : the administration of law justice; especially : the establishment or determination of rights according to law or equity justice; b : fair, just, or impartial legal process justice —G. Railroad Winters

The key to all of this being 'impartial'. Whether or not Casey Anthony is a stellar or even good or decent human being or not, whether or not she was a candidate for 'Mother of the Year' or not has no bearing on the facts, the evidence. And that's where the case has to be decided. There's a reason that Justice is portrayed as blind and with scales in her hand. Justice, to be impartial, cannot look at the person and see the details, the things that make them different from anyone else. Justice has to look at the evidence and the evidence alone. What matters is the facts - that's what the scale is for. Whichever way the evidence leans, that is the way that Justice has to decide.

The problem, such as it is, is that humanity is limited. We are limited by our knowledge and the circumstances that surround the gathering and interpretation of evidence. Further by the presentation of such. Justice must be served by limited, imperfect human beings. And that grates on us, mostly because we know that it is possible for people to make errors of judgment, even based on good evidence.

So we look to a being who is higher than ourselves, something that is perfect and omniscient. *That* sort of being is not limited, because it knows everything, all the time. That is the only way that the concept of justice can be applied perfectly. And that's what we want. At the heart of it all, we want to know that the guilty will be punished for exactly what they did because their crimes harm the collective community of humanity, and that the innocent will be rewarded for being good, and perhaps for injustices that they had to suffer due to the limitations of justice on earth.

But then there's the problem - if the divine being is perfect and he gives *everyone* the justice that they deserve, and it sent down a set of laws which, let's be honest, no one can keep perfectly, not even the 'looser' rules of non-legalistic faiths, then we will all be punished. We will *all* receive justice, which isn't what we want. Because, I mean, 'compared to them, I'm an angel!'. Right? So we have to have a divine being who is not only perfectly just, but perfectly merciful as well, in order to have hopes that it will spare us the punishment that we perhaps deserve under the concept of perfect justice.

Therein lies the rub. How can there be perfect justice as well as perfect mercy? How does one not get short shrift in service to the other? How is it just for someone who has committed murder to be just as forgiven as someone whose only 'crime' was cursing once, or getting drunk that one time? We categorize and rank 'sins' and 'crimes' down here on earth in order of how much they affect the human community, in order that we can know which deserve punishment and which don't. But we theorize and dream of a 'perfect' level of all of this, and it appeals to our innate desire to see everyone get what they deserve even as it terrifies us because we're afraid that *we* will get what we deserve.


  1. Fantastic post, Amber! I loved reading your thoughts on the trial, the definitions of justice and how you tied it into perfect justice and mercy. Quite a "thinkie" here...

    Glad you shared your thoughts.

  2. Thank you Amber, I really loved this post. (Had to link to it in my link love, hope you don't mind.)

  3. I don't mind at all, Becky! :D


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