Crime and Punishment

November 15, 2009

Oh, with my pathetic, earthly, Euclidean mind, I know only that there is suffering, that none are to blame, that all things follow simply and directly one from another, that everything flows and finds its level — but that is all just Euclidean gibberish, of course I know that, and of course I cannot consent to live by it! What do I care that none are to blame and that I know it — I need retribution, otherwise I will destroy myself. And retribution not somewhere and sometime in infinity, but here and now, on earth, so that I see it myself.

The Brothers Karamazov, Part II, Book Five, Chapter 4, “Rebellion

That’s the passage I think of when I read articles like this one, about children who die because their parents failed to take care of them in some way. In this case, a girl died because her parents refused to treat their daughter’s diabetes, in the belief that prayer would heal her. A few years back, I remember a case in which an infant died after her father forgot about her and left her in his car on a hot summer day. I can’t help myself, I always find suggestions of jail time in these cases to be a sort of absurdist humor. The main suggestion in today’s Post article is that these parents got off too easily: they should go to jail for 10 years instead of 6 months.

I wish it were that easy to feel good about cases like this one. It would be great to see this child’s death as the result of the callous indifference of her parents to her suffering. Of course, the underlying problem would still be there, but at least I’d be too distracted by her parents’ villainy to think about the unfixable injustice of the situation.

I’m going to make a libertarian point now. It’s wrong to believe that the criminal legal system in this country should be responsible for bringing about justice in the world. To me, it seems clear that there’s no good reason to believe that our government is set up to deliver the result we are looking for. And, in fact, I believe that having the general attitude that government should be responsible for justice leads to many of the terrible excesses of government decried by non-libertarians (e.g. the “War on Terror”). Unfortunately, when you’re involved in politics, you think the solution is for your side to get in charge and start doing things right.

In the end, we have one of those parallels that you find in movies about criminal masterminds, where the detective is a good detective because he is so similar to the criminal. The parents in this case believe that their faith and prayer will save their daughter’s life. Jonathan Turley, the author of this article, has faith in the criminal justice system, that if it is administered just right, would have saved their daughter’s life. They both want to believe that, as terrible as the situation seems, somehow justice prevails.

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2 Responses to “Crime and Punishment”

  1. Rrrobert! Says:

    Hrm. Well, it certainly seems naive to expect perfect justice from the legal system. And it seems like “justice” is only one of a thousand relevant factors that policymakers weigh in their decisions. Some would argue that perfect policymakers would disregard justice entirely in favor of other rubrics, but I think it’s evident that people care about justice so their legislators do too (or at least, the appearance of justice – an important distinction).

    That said, it seems to me that the criminal judicial system is one of the least governmental roles of government. Using juries to determine matters of fact removes government per se from a considerable portion of justice. And most of criminal law proceeds from the common law tradition, which is itself a largely organic process. Though the judges who make common law are certainly of the government, I think of them as having a very different set of problems than the other branches’ deliberate agendas.


  2. […] 17, 2009 I can’t really describe this post as anything but a failure. I didn’t communicate my message very well at all, and then, […]


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