Only In America

Thursday 7 Mar 2002

I love this country. Well, not as much the country itself as the freedoms we enjoy here. The flip side of this is that we take them for granted...and sometimes, people abuse the hell out of them. Our legal system ensures that this sort of idiocy will continue, and indeed, thrive. Call me jaded because I currently work for a major news organization, but I have so much exposure to this kind of nonsense that once in a while, I have to let it out. Read on.

Example #1: the motivation, not the crime, is being addressed. Here we have a woman who killed her five children, one by one. This is indisputable - it happened. She killed them. This is murder. Murder has penalties. Who cares why she did it? Who cares if she was out of her mind or possessed or whatever? It shouldn't matter. It's not like she's ever going to lead a normal life again, where anyone trusts her with anything, much less children. There's not even anything to prove! She killed them, let her pay the price; no debate is needed.

Example #2: ironclad proof of guilt is being ignored. This man tried to blow up a plane, in front of dozens of witnesses. Never mind the other evidence that has surfaced since the original crime - in these days of heightened sensitivity to such things, one would think that this would be a cut-and-dried case. The only question here is what punishment gets meted out to someone who tries to blow up a plane. Why do we have to wait months for a trial to get the answer to this question? Why the hell are we even talking about this?

I had some other ones, but none are as strong as the above two, so I'm going to stop here. In my opinion, the reason that these trials drag out for months and years, and in some cases culminate in idiotically lenient verdicts, is because this country's legal system is convoluted beyond repair. Realistically, you can have "freedom from" or you can have "freedom to." You can have freedom to walk downtown at midnight, but you might get mugged. You can have freedom from getting mugged, but the cost might be curfews, or armed police in the streets, or severe penalties for people who have mugged previously. You can't have both freedoms at once, though, because they cannot co-exist. There have to be rules, and they have to be enforced. The way to deter crimes is to have - and enforce, swiftly and powerfully - consequences. In some countries, if you kill someone and it's a proven fact, you die, then and there. I guarantee you that in those countries, fewer people kill other people.

This is not a rant advocating the death penalty - it's a rant meant to show a general principle. In any group of people, there are going to be some who want things without working for them, or who are inclined to harm or kill other people. This won't change when the punishments are a joke, when the trial can take years, when there's a good chance they'll get away with it, when you can plead insanity. Insanity, by the way, is the ultimate cop-out defense. It's not tangible - it's just a condition that gets agreed on by other people. It cannot be quantified. A corpse CAN be quantified. Five corpses CAN be quantified. A downed plane CAN be quantified. Is this making sense yet? If we know that someone did something, it's time to move on to the next step: punishment. This should be a simple "if-then" situation, or perhaps a "case" situation. But the red tape needs to go.