Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

May 21, 2006

A Lawyer’s View of Justice

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:59 am

Evan Savoie and Jake Eakin, now age 15, are on trial for murdering (when they were 12) a 13-year-old “playmate.” Because the witnesses are not allowed to be in the courtroom before they testify, the victim’s mother, who is a witness, can’t attend the trial. So the judge appointed a lawyer to represent the interests of the victim’s family.

Whereupon one of the defense lawyers for Evan Savoie, a certain Randy Smith, had this to say:

“It’s a sad state of affairs when you raise victims’ rights to the same level as the constitutional rights of the accused.”

And then they wonder why people think lawyers have screwed-up values.

Most fair-minded people will agree that the accused should be regarded as innocent until proven guilty, and as such, should have certain rights that convicted criminals shouldn’t have. But most fair-minded people still view the extensive rights held by the accused as a necessarily evil, necessary only because it is possible for innocent people to be accused.

Yet, lawyers are taught in law school to regard the rights of the accused as sacred in and of themselves. I have heard many lawyers justify the use of legal tactics to exclude from the trial definitive evidence of a defendant’s guilt with the argument that the the goal of a trial is not to discover the truth (how naive they thought I was for thinking that!), but to “force the state to prove its case,” without which condition the state “did not deserve to put someone in jail.”

It is quite odd, also, that several criminal lawyers who used language like that (which I heard in separate conversations, separated over many years, from lawyers who did not know each other) seemed to think that what is at stake in a trial is whether the state “deserves” to incarcerate someone. Here also fair-minded non-lawyers have a different view: The state doesn’t “deserve” to incarcerate anybody. The state has an obligation to protect its citizens from crime, which includes, in certain democratically determined cases, the obligation to incarcertain certain people; that is, those convicted of crimes deemed via a democratic process to be worthy of incarceration as a punishment.

But then again, there I go again, “rais[ing] [potential future]victims’ rights to the same level” as those of criminals, or prosecutors, or something like that. Can’t have victim’s rights raised to some level, can we now… Apparently, while most people view the rights of the victims as paramount and the rights of the accused as a necessary evil, lawyers — defense lawyers at least — think it’s precisely the other way around.

(Thanks to Randy Cassingham for pointing out the original AP story.)

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