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Punishing Suspects

November 13, 2016

There seems to be a popular call to punish suspects these days.  People who advocate this course of action want to dispense with the legal process and dispense with the investigation.  They just want to punish the suspect right now.  In most cases, the punishment they want is execution of the suspects.  Of course, they don’t call them suspects; they call them criminals.

Legal traditions stand in opposition to this call for swift justice.  Suspects have a right to a fair trial, and a right to a good defense.  They are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.  There must be evidence against them, and this evidence must be valid.  Courts must be independant of political pressure.  If accused persons are found guilty, their punishment must fit the crime.  They retain the right to appeal their sentence.  In many countries, capital punishment is prohibited, so that they can appeal.

We’ve seen many examples of this sort of rough justice.  In the Philippines, death squads kill suspected drug dealers, or people who can be labelled as drug dealers.  There was a recent spate of vigilante killings in Mexico, one that drew the approval of many other people.  Even the United States regularly kills people on the ground from remote-controlled drones with no pretense of a fair trial.

Why does the public want this sort of justice?  The perception that there’s too much crime is the main reason.  That might be a false perception.  Public accusations against a suspect may be another reason.  The slow court process and inadequate investigations by police only make the situation worse.  Society today moves at a faster pace then ever before.  News media publicize a story for a few days and then move on to something new.  By the time a suspect is convicted or acquitted, the public has forgotten about it.

How can we solve this problem?  Even though culprits must be punished, suspects must still be treated fairly.  They must be acquitted if evidence against them is lacking, or if the evidence is tainted.  Somehow, the court process has to be speeded up.  This could be accomplished by expanding the court system, or by replacing part of it with a streamlined process.  Courts may need to be overhauled in some manner.  An injection of technology may provide the necessary speed.  Investigation of crimes by police also needs to be improved, although I don’t know how this could be done.  Some types of crimes, by their nature, don’t provide solid evidence.  Finally, plea bargains should not be counted as convictions.  After all, a suspect will often plead guilty to a lesser charge simply as a way to avoid the severe punishment that accompanies conviction on a greater charge.  They could still be innocent.


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