Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Can we talk about "justice" for a minute? When something bad happens in our society, there's often a call for "justice" or when our legal system fails, people decry a lack of "justice". But I think very few people stop to think what it means, both in specific cases and in general. Most of us, in fact, have it dead wrong.

For the framework of this blog post, here are some synonyms for the word justice: fairness, justness, fair play, fair-mindedness, equity, evenhandedness, impartiality.

Let's say that someone smashes out your car window. What's justice in that scenario? Certainly that the person who did it should pay to have it replaced. But the cost of the window isn't the only consideration. Maybe you had to take time off of work or had to spend time with the police. Maybe you were frightened. The best society can do in that scenario is compensate you financially by perhaps penalizing the person who broke your window with a larger fine. But that's civil litigation. If there were criminal charges, the person might be sent to jail and maybe they'd lose their job over that lost time. The criminal justice system though isn't there to provide justice to a wronged individual though. You, as the victim of the crime are not important to the criminal justice system. That system is concerned with society as a whole. Its job is to both ensure public safety and attempt to reform the behavior of the perpetrator. 

By its very nature the criminal justice system isn't concerned with actual justice. Justice is about restoring the balance of things prior to the crime. In the example above, you want your window replaced and compensation for any time or effort it took to get it back to that state. Justice is getting things back to the way they were.

Even if it were allowed by a court, would you feel justice was served if instead of having your window replaced, you were authorized to go smash out the window of the person who smashed yours? It might feel good, you might have a sense of revenge. But at the end of the day, you then have two people with smashed out windows. Is that fair play? Equity? Or just tit for tat? How do you feel then when you have to go pay for your window to be repaired?

Let me give you another example. A person breaks into an elderly person's home, finds their secret retirement stash of money, piles it all up and then burns it. Every last dollar. They've left that elderly person destitute. Revenge would say that the elderly person would be allowed to burn all of the burglar's money. That still leaves the elderly person broke though. Justice says that the burglar should be forced to repay that elderly person in any and every way possible. Perhaps with his own immediate cash or through ongoing reparations.

Which brings me to murder. Unlike a broken window, a life can't be brought back, replaced or repaired. Money burned cannot be reimbursed. Once someone is dead, that damage is done. If Jane kills Bob, how does Jane offer Bob restitution? How does Bob get justice?

He doesn't. Ever. Bob never sees justice. Because justice would be that Bob gets his life back. There is no justice when someone is murdered. Penalizing Jane isn't justice for Bob. 

Society can do what it does to people who commit crimes: try to protect the rest of society and try to reform the criminals. The families and loved ones might cry out for the death penalty, and if they get it, they have revenge. But they weren't the ones wronged, Bob was. That's not justice.

In case I haven't yet crystallized my point for you, consider this: If you believe that executing Jane because she killed Bob is justice, then what is justice for Jane if she killed Bob and Mike? If Jane is executed for the murder of two people and you believe that's justice just as it is for her murder of one person, you're either saying that Mike's life didn't matter or that Jane's life is somehow worth more than other people's. 

I can't speak to the dead, but in this scenario, I bet that Bob and Mike would find it more just to be alive along with Jane than for all three of them to be dead.

Murdered people don't ever get justice. Murder is never fair, never just.

That's why it's wrong to murder. Not because some god told you or even some law. It's because the scales can never be balanced. No one murdered ever gets justice.