12 April 2007

Justice vs. Fairness

A thousand years ago and a million miles from here, I was on a jury trying a drug case. Some idiot had shipped 15 pounds of marijuana USPS Priority Mail. Word of warning: if you ship an illegal substance via the USPS, the “postman” who shows up at your door is likely to be a “Postal Inspector,” and have the county narcotics squad in the back of his delivery truck! I remember one of the defense’s arguments was that the defendant ran because he didn’t know it was the police chasing him, despite the matching shirts with embroidered badges and "NARCOTICS" in three inch letters on the back, plus the "wig-wags" (alternating headlights) on the car that followed him as he drove backwards down the street at 40 MPH! The interchange went something like this:

Attorney (A) “Did you identify yourself as a law enforcement officer?”
Postal Inspector (PI): “Yes, I did.”
A: “What did you yell?”
PI: “I yelled, STOP! POLICE!”
A: “Are you legally authorized to call yourself a police officer.”
PI: “Yes, Postal Inspectors are commissioned Federal Law Enforcement officers.”
A: “But why didn’t you more properly identify yourself as a Postal Service employee?”
PI: “Because yelling “STOP! POSTAL INSPECTOR!!” doesn’t strike fear into anyone’s heart!”

We ended up with a deadlocked jury. There were three people who were absolutely ready to convict, six who were pretty sure, but willing to listen to arguments against it (including me), and three who would not have convicted this dude if they’d seen him do it themselves! The main sticking point was that the three could not get past the fact that there were others peripherally involved in the crime that were not on trial. “That’s not fair!” they repeated over and over again. I tried reasoning with them at one point based on two ideas: number one, they wouldn’t appear in the same trial as this guy, even if they have been charged, and number two, we’re not here to dispense fairness; we’re here to dispense justice.

I illustrated the difference as follows: Suppose all 12 of us were driving on the interstate, single file, at 90 MPH. I’m the last one in line, and if you’re in front of me while driving, and you’re staying there, you’re moving pretty fast! Our little convoy (remember your CB handle?) passes a State Trooper, and he clocks every one of us at identical 90 MPH readings. He immediately gives chase and pulls the last car in line over, ME! The rest of you keep going, since he can only get one of us. Y’all get away, and I get a ticket. THAT'S NOT FAIR! Y’all were doing the same thing I was doing and y’all got away!! But was I going 90 MPH? Yes. Was I guilty of the ticket I was given? Yes. It’s not fair, but it is JUST! Fairness is giving everyone the same thing. Justice is giving each one what he deserves.

1 comment:

Julian Darley said...

thank you. your illustration and explanation of the difference between fairness and justice is most helpful.