Veritas Christian School
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Discuss and analyze why the American justice system is or is not the fairest in the world.
What makes a justice system truly just? As Aristotle explained, "The virtue of justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom." The quality of a justice system must be determined only by its ability to respond appropriately and proportionally to crime: to counter wrong with perfect punishment, insomuch as the criminal deserves, based upon the extent that the victim has been offended. The end of justice must not be to deter or to rehabilitate, but to repair through proportional penalization, with the effect of balancing the scales that were tipped by the offense. If the formation of a better ordered society is the only goal of justice, governments will become prone to under or overreaction, verging upon injustice themselves. This fundamental premise of balanced justice was foundational in the formation of the laws of the United States and the many nations that have been influenced by her. It has for hundreds of years been the pivotal philosophy that has allowed the justice system of this nation to act evenhandedly. Yet, the same cannot be said for all, even in highly developed nations.
Modern Singapore, for instance, represents a civilization where a retributive type of justice is employed. Singapore's justice system actively practices capital punishments for a wide range of offenses, including piracy, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and the discharge of a firearm, even without injury or death (Arms Offenses Act). Caning (an act that Amnesty International considers to be torture) is regularly applied for lesser crimes, such as vandalism (BBC), drug use (Human Rights Watch), and rioting (Penal Code), and is even mandatory illegal lending (corpun.com), while illegal immigration and Visa overstays are punished by a minimum of three lashes (Immigration Act). Placing fairness even farther out of reach, the conviction and sentencing is left up to a single judge (state.gov). Yet, Singapore is not alone in its use of cruel and unusual punishment. Amputation of hands and feet for petty theft and posthumous crucifixion (Amnesty International) are commonplace punishments in Saudi Arabia, while the accused are often not allowed lawyers to defend themselves (Amnesty International). China has been known to torture suspects to extract confessions, while executing its citizens for tax evasion, bribe-taking, petty theft, political dissension, and even religious "crimes" (Foreign Policy). North Korea is on a level of its own, publicly executing its citizens for stealing food (Washington Times). Clearly, oppression and contorted sentences are often used by governments as tools to bring about order. But is this true justice?
Then, there are other nations where criminal punishments are the antithesis of severity. In Norway, justice has become aimed almost entirely towards the rehabilitation of criminals, not their due punishment, often to the expense of victims. Not only was the death penalty for all crimes abolished entirely in 1979 (norway.org), but the current maximum prison sentence for any crime is 21 years, regardless of magnitude or heinousness (NPR). Thus, all criminals, no matter how violent or prone to reoffend, are eventually released back into society. When even serial killers are given a second chance, the consequences can be dire. This was tragically demonstrated on 22 July 2011 , when Anders Behring Breivik detonated a car bomb in downtown Oslo, then entered the island of Ut0ya and began firing upon unarmed civilians, most of them children. Within several hours, Breivik had killed 77 people (BBC). Today, Breivik is still on trial, but due to Norway's criminal law, he will be released when he is no older than 53.
If the laws of Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, and countless other nations are repressive and unjust, how is Norway's immense leniency any better? While one type of system condemns the innocent, the other clears the guilty. In none of these systems is the precarious balance of justice righted, because none act to respond appropriately and fairly to crime. Both types of judicial systems distort justice, only taking different avenues to do so. They err by confusing their own roles, seeking to order society by manipulating the application of the judiciary.
Of the many governments that misuse their laws and courts, there is one that strives to use them to promote true justice. The United States was founded on the concept of justice as a state of being, a fairness that is to be achieved through the process of law. This very idea was woven tightly into the Constitution, the most binding, supreme, and authoritative law in the United States. Article III of the Constitution establishes the ability of the justice system to carry out its duties independently from other branches of government and their influences, allowing the courts to operate objectively and without corruption. The Bill of rights, meanwhile, protects Americans from many of the injustices imposed by governments around the world, namely cruel and unusual punishment, denial of trial by jury, excessive bail, search, seizure, and arrest without warrant, to name only a few. Defended by and held to these laws for over two hundred years, the justice system of this nation has operated under a simple principle: that crime must be punished through due process and with proportionality, without excessive severity or laxness, solely for the sake of fairness in every case.
The perception of justice by the judiciary is one of the primary reasons, besides the security of the Consitution, why the justice system of the United States has consistently proven itself to be the fairest in the world. Justice is in this nation is seen as it should be, not as a tool, but a virtue. It is not regarded as a device that human society has simply created to hold chaos at bay. It supersedes societies and governments as an eternal, immutable, overarching idea of fairness and equality, pursued through balancing crime with due punishment. Justice is not a means to an end, but an end to be reached.
Created: April 25, 2012; Revised: September 2, 2014