Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Making Jurisprudence More Prudent

I'm reading up on the Amanda Knox trial, because her parents have just been indicted for slander for saying that Italian authorities abused her when she was in their care. I read a comment expressing happiness that both Knox and her parents were being brought to justice. This is entirely wrong.

I am perpetually amazed by the way people treat the law. They have a nasty habit of using justice and the law as though they are somehow linked; they aren't. The law is not justice, and justice rarely has anything to do with the law.

We, as a culture, are obsessed with legal proceedings bringing "closure," or "justice" to those wronged. It's funny how everyone who expects this says the same thing after their respective proceedings have closed, "It doesn't repair the damage, and I don't feel the hole is filled, but it's something." Precisely. It's something. It's something that most people don't understand, nor do they, in their insipidly simplistic world view, even think much about.

The law is a system for maintaining social order, that's all. It exists to pass judgments not based on any nebulous concept like justice, but to pass and enforce laws that provide for the smoothest operation of society. Not people. Not groups. Society as a whole. That is what the law concerns itself with. It does not care about YOU! Frequently, your concerns will be in line with the concerns of society because you are a part of society. And if the law doesn't provide for you, that is a concern because that means it fails to provide for some set hunk of the population. It is not a concern because you are somehow being wronged.

But back to Amanda Knox. There is certainly no guarantee that she is guilty. There is no guarantee that anyone is guilty. There are many cases that achieve near-open-and-shut status. For example, any case where there is nearly irrefutable video evidence showing the crime. But barring that, trials are case studies in epistemology. Are we justified and to what degree are we justified? That is what is essentially being determined by the court. A description of events that can never be proven or disproven, is presented, and we determine if we are justified in believing that series of events.

The consideration that almost never seems to be made explicit is the sad reality of uncertainty. Since we can never really know if we're right or wrong when a decision comes down, we must greet every verdict with a somber acceptance. It is never a time for celebration. If you are an aggrieved family member hoping to find justice for a murdered loved one, even if the person on trial is convicted, you must always recognize that the person who actually did it might not be the person in custody, and the conviction of the innocent person will thus cease further inquiries into the case.

It is this that sticks in my mind when I hear of prosecutorial misconduct, or police abuse. Sometimes they talk about "gut feelings" or other such nonsense, but frequently, they try to get a conviction even when it goes against common sense! This helps to remind me that oftentimes agents of the law have their own motivations, i.e. winning the case. It's a competition for them. It has nothing to do with justice, or even the law. It's a personal thing, and because of that the process fails. It fails because of them. Even if they get the conviction, it's quite possibly wrong, and the REAL CRIMINAL is running around free!

Legal proceedings are a sad thing. They do not bring closure or repair damage. They never know if they're right or wrong. And they don't care about individual people. In all cases, we, dispirited, must move onward with our heads held low, realizing that nothing the law could ever provide can heal the wounds wrought by failures of human nature.

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