Attitude Media Crime and Punishment

Justice for an Unjust World

by, John F Groom

  • 16 of 18

Midnight in the garden of civil and criminal court

      Men should be treated equally under the law, but that does certainly not mean that all human lives have equal value. Some people create value for themselves and others; others are purely value destroyers. This should be reflected in both civil and criminal penalties. The following story shows the perversion of both systems, so common in today’s world.
      American juries always have 12 members. The first two juries in the Williams case managed to come to agreement in favor of a guilty verdict; the 3rd group had 11 in favor of a guilty verdict and one adamant hold –out, and was thus declared a mistrial. After all that, it only took the jury in the 4th trial one hour to unanimously come in with the Not Guilty verdict. If you try a case enough times, you’ll eventually get the result you want, which is why the Double Jeopardy clause prevents prosecutors, in most circumstances, from trying the same person more than once for any offense.
      To a large extent, both the criminal and civil justice systems are lotteries. 12 people in one place at one time give you one result; 12 people, or a judge, in a different place at a different time are likely to give you a very different result. That’s because the law is far more complex and confusing than it needs to be, and far too easily manipulated by lawyers, and also because Americans have no common, unambiguous moral code.

      In 1981, in a case made famous by the book and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Savannah, Georgia antiques dealer and preservationist Jim Williams shot and killed his gay lover, a young bisexual street hustler named Danny Hansford. Hansford’s mother, who had obtained a restraining order against her son previously to keep him away from her, suddenly decided that the value of her son’s life was $10 million, suing Williams for that amount.
      What is the life of someone like Danny Hansford really worth? Of course, as we discuss in our Valuism essay, values can only be determined in context. There

is no abstract value to life, or at least none that can be expressed in dollar terms.In this case, when her son was alive, his mother went to court to keep her son away from her. So we can assume that he was more of a nuisance and a threat to his mother than a comfort, and his mother deserved nothing from Williams.
      In criminal court, Jim Williams, who said he shot Hansford in self-defense, was tried for murder not once, not twice, not thrice, but a record setting 4 times, making him the only person in Georgia history ever tried for the same murder 4 times. The first two convictions were overturned on appeal; the third was declared a mistrial; the 4th time Williams was found innocent, but died seven months after finally being acquitted, in an echo of Dicken’s great novel Bleak House.

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