Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A contrast and comparison of justice systems

An article I read today reminded me of a situation in Toronto not too long ago. In that situation, headlines were screaming:
Owen Smith, 25, and Wendell Damian Cuff, 25, were charged with the first-degree murder of Abdikarim Ahmed Abdikarim. The Crown, citing insufficient evidence to pass a preliminary hearing, dropped the charges. The victim's family are further pained by the continued suffering in such a sad, terrible loss. I have two kids, and I wouldn't dare presume to know what this must be like for them. Raising a child to end up the victim of a murder - and an as yet unsolved murder at that - is beyond grasp.

The cops are disappointed, thinking they had gathered sufficient evidence that a case was worth putting before a jury. The public is outraged. Another bad guy gets away, it appears.

Yet, as painful as it is for all, dropping the charges was still right.

Our society has already decided we do not want to live in a world where someone can lose their freedom and go to jail without evidence that passes a rigorous series of tests through due process. It's a decision we, as citizens of a free society, ought to continue to make, uphold and defend.

Let's flip it around. The video is absolutely inconclusive in terms of the identity of the shooter. For all intents and purposes, the video was just as likely to point to your neighbour, your friend, or even you, than to the accused.

In this situation, it's not even a matter that the accused was tried and the verdict was returned not guilty. That would have been due process as well. But, well short of that, the evidence didn't even stand up to warrant trial. It's simply insufficient. What else should we do? Had he gone to trial and been convicted with evidence that wasn't even deemed strong enough to be worth the time and money to go to trial, would our society be better off? I say no with no hesitation. It would mean we'd arrived at the place where anyone, anytime, could end up going to jail without the benefit of a trial through which evidence had to pass.

Society should be clear on this. There are societies on our planet where governments exercise absolute power and impunity in terms of who walks freely and who disappears in the middle of the night, never to be heard from again; or who can have an opinion and who ends up being stoned to death without a fair trial. We have decided we do not want that world. These checks and balances are there to help protect our rights and freedoms.

This freedom comes at a price - we'd rather a guilty go free than an innocent get locked up. It happens. Bad people get away with it (IF such is what has occurred here) sometimes. Tipping that balance to the opposite slant would be the end of free society as we know it.

Having said all that, here's the headline today:  Review sees flaws in dozens of N.C. prosecutions

So, the question warrants revisiting: do we want a society in which the guilty may get off scott-free, or a society in which the innocent could lose their free lives?

While pondering the implications of either choice, I'll toss another idea out there: if the prison population's ethnic profile is markedly disproportionate to the general population's ethnic profile, is it reasonable to extrapolate that some percentage of the incarcerated are there as a result of being in a system that favours  cutting corners in due process to put people behind bars?

And, if so, with respect to the topic of social factors such as fatherless families affecting the academic performance of black males (recently discussed), the OughtThought here is a question  - is a questionably-managed criminal justice system one of the social systems challenging the opportunities for black families to keep their males at home?

The case that was thrown out before getting to trial in Toronto is an example of what should happen. If a review in Toronto was performed as the one in North Carolina, would this instance be the norm, or the exception? For the record, I think it ought to be the norm.

1 comment:

Len said...

I am proud to be part of a society that supports the notion that 'one is innocent until proven guilty', albeit imperfectly executed sometimes.

As usual your comments provoke thought. Well done