There is an often cited tenet of the “western world’s” justice systems, and that is that an individual who is accused of a crime must be considered innocent until they are proven guilty. And yet so often our knee-jerk reaction is to encourage violence against those accused of heinous crimes — not yet even convicted. To suggest cruel and unusual punishments to those against which we perceive guilt, regardless of what evidence may have been presented, or withheld.
The righteousness of a Justice System is found not in how it treats the guilty, but in how it accounts for its treatment of those who are later found to have been innocent.
I suggest to you that even after an individual has been proven guilty before a court of law, their punishment must be such that those held responsible for their welfare during their incarceration, as well as we as a collective society, are able to live with it if we later determine that the proof was lacking, nay, that we prove conclusively that the individual was wrongly convicted. I further suggest that this doctrine should apply not only to those found guilty under protest or silence, but to those found guilty by their own admission, their own proclamation.
Despite the other tenet that says “it is better that ten guilty men go free, than one innocent man face punishment” history tells us that this is not often held to. Even on its best day our justice system allows for innocent men to be found guilty, be it by evidence that is incorrectly interpreted by the police, the prosecution, and the jury; or through the falsely accused being coerced into pleading guilty for fear of harsher punishment if a trial does not end favorably – after all, it is generally far more difficult to prove you did not do something, if there is even minimal evidence that can be arranged to suggest you did.
It is not enough for the government to send an apology or to offer a little restitution to those who are granted freedom after providing enough evidence of their innocence. It is imperative that we treat all of those that we incarcerate with dignity and respect, not because it is deserved by the truly guilty (for it is not), but because it is owed to those who are not. We are obligated to show humanity to the convicted, not because we have reason to believe it is in their best interest, but because it is truly in ours.
Stay tuned for the next Justice Rant…