Envision the most heinous crime you can imagine having been committed. An individual does something so shocking and outside what society counts normative that the act is perceived as alien by his or her fellows.
The temptation is to take immediate action to punish that one for the wrong done.
There’s an obvious assumption being made here, that would be that you personally witnessed the evil. Even someone else having done so ought not, after all, be sufficient to cause you to seek swift retribution.
In fact, the further down the rabbit hole you must go, the less you should assume it possible that actions can be taken without more fact-finding occurring first.
Now let’s suppose that the one doing the wrong has no recollection of what happened. He or she can be shown pictures, or have the scene described to them in detail, and they respond with revulsion, and seem to have zero connection with what happened at all.
You saw what happened. You’re absolutely certain your eyes didn’t fail you; yet the person in question swears up and down he or she has no idea about what you’re talking.
Worse yet, imagine they know what happened, but insist things were going on you didn’t or couldn’t see. Maybe those things were real, maybe the person imagined or hallucinated them. Nonetheless, they count them to have occurred.
Then of course, there’re times when witnesses are sure of what they’ve seen (again, correct or incorrect); and those where nobody can tell you what happened but the accused.
For the moment, our final scenario, is when a person did the thing, acknowledges they did it, and expresses zero remorse.
There’re a hundred possibilities between “guilty and admits it,” and “claims innocence with no witnesses.”
The important realization is, due process applies to each and every case.
There are a number of reasons this is the true. Allow me to expound upon four of them.
When a person acts in ways he or she ought not, if justice is meted out on the spot, a couple of things happen. The first is, the person may be too lightly or too harshly punished. As well, even assuming you can know all the factors involved in what transpired, somebody acting as marshal, judge, jury and executioner, may not respond to misbehavior in the same way another person, either acting as a vigilante, or working in the system does.
In fact, even the same person may respond differently on different days, or for perceived variances that don’t exist, or based on bias for or against one or both persons, or a million other factors.
The result is unequal punishment or retribution. Since the U. S. Constitution expresses a requirement that we should have equal protection under the law, there must be measures in place to make sure that’s how things work out. Even with such things, there’s still a chance of people being treated differently.; though that’s true, the possibility should be substantially reduced.
It’s also a potential fact that, where it may seem to an irate witness, that a given form of punitive action is acceptable. That’s not necessarily the case, when one considers the Constitutional right to not suffer cruel and unusual punishment.
It may be entirely understandable that one witnessing a horrible event, thinks it reasonable to act in ways that would be considered so; that said, the point of delimiting the right, is pretty much exactly that—to keep people from acting out of anger, fear, or while under the control of some other force that would make them ultimately, potentially as bad as or worse than, the person being punished.
Another issue is that, in the heat of the moment, one may not be aware that how things appeared is not how they actually were. Put another way, there may’ve been extenuating circumstances, or the one witnessing the event may be just plain wrong come to what they thought they saw or heard. For this reason among others, wild west justice is not the way to move forward.
Many will question my final point. They may say something like, “That aside, the person did what they did and should be punished.” Even if that’s true, the reasons given before this one should be sufficient to make it clear due process is not just desirable, it’s pretty much essential to polite society.
The last thing I wanted to bring up though, is the mental state and capacity of the perpetrator. If an individual is unable to recognize the gravity of his or her actions—whether because they’re not in their right mind, or because they operate with diminished capacity in some regard—where it may be necessary to ensure that such a one is watched, so they’re unable to act as they ought not, it’s not always be possible to stop errant behavior.
As hard as caregivers and others work to make sure that such folks don’t do something untoward, impropriety will still slip through the cracks. Part of the reason being that the mentally impaired or diminished one, may shift between stability and instability quite rapidly.
I have a son who certainly doesn’t understand death, and is only now begining to comprehend injury. He’s almost eight years of age. I must watch him constantly to be certain he doesn’t do something that’s harmful or deadly to others.
I’m trying to bring him to a place of clarity, so he knows the things he does can result in fatality or injury, and for the most part that’s working just fine, but because he’s Moderately Autistic, he may never fully grasp what I and others, count expected and all but mandatory knowledge.
I work to keep him safe, and of course, to keep him from misbehaving. Even so, at times, he’ll do and say things he shouldn’t. Such is the life of a boy who’s brain works differently from the rest of the world, and those who care for and about him.
My son is obviously, but a single example, there are many more.
I hope at this point you’re coming to understand just how important due process is.
Maybe a person acts in a way that society at large considers worthy of that worst of all penalties, execution. Perhaps there are people who would wish to see him rapidly enter his final resting place. The simplest, most telling question is, “What if you’re wrong?” What if he’s innocent? This applies to less serious punishments as well. You cannot give wrongfully incarcerated people that time back. For this reason, due process exists and is hopefully practiced to the fullest extent possible.
Thanks for reading, and may your time be good.