A young person — I’m not going to provide any more identifying information than that individual did — left a comment to my article about “Defending Innocent People.” The comment is interesting on many different levels.
One of the things that really stood out, though, was this statement:
I do agree that a lot of people convicted are in fact guilty, and even if not for that particular crime than [sic] they probably did something before that and somehow got away with it.
Now, this individual did not state that this justifies punishment, but most people making this kind of statement do mean to say that. They usually actually follow up by explicitly saying something to indicate they’re unconcerned with the conviction of the “innocent” individual because they aren’t really so innocent after all, are they?
But why does this way of thinking not make us one of the bad guys when we shrug our shoulders over a wrongful conviction, or give less consideration to the concept of reasonable doubt, and our part in seeing the justice wins in court? Perhaps this is why some guy allegedly once said,
If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her. (John 8:7, New International Version.)
Sure doesn’t sound like, “Well, she may not have done what she’s accused of, but you fine people should go ahead and punish her anyway because she probably has done something wrong, sometime.” In fact, on the contrary: he all but says “You fine people should not punish her, because you have probably done something wrong, sometime.”
As Matthew’s Commentary on the above biblical passage states,
Those are self-condemned who judge others, and yet do the same thing. All who are any way called to blame the faults of others, are especially concerned to look to themselves, and keep themselves pure. In this matter Christ attended to the great work about which he came into the world, that was, to bring sinners to repentance; not to destroy, but to save. He aimed to bring, not only the accused to repentance, by showing her his mercy, but the prosecutors also, by showing them their sins; they thought to insnare him, he sought to convince and convert them. He declined to meddle with the magistrate’s office. Many crimes merit far more severe punishment than they meet with; but we should not leave our own work, to take that upon ourselves to which we are not called.
When we are called into the courtroom — when we get our summons to jury duty — we are not asked to determine whether someone deserves to be punished because “they might not have done this, but they probably did something, sometime.” We should not take that upon ourselves to which we are not called. And what we are called for is to determine whether the individual charged with a particular crime, at a particular time, actually committed that crime, at that time. That is our work.
You might believe in some kind of “universalized” justice. Call it “karma” or whatever else you like. But consider this: if you convict someone for a crime they did not commit, are you not doing something wrong? So if you are untroubled by your wrongdoing, do you not deserve, also, to be punished?
No matter that you think it’s okay not to carefully consider the evidence and whether or not it “beyond a reasonable doubt” supports a conviction, two wrongs really do not make a right. It just adds to the number of wrongs in the universe.