Why do dangerous criminals often go free? Why are the innocent sometimes imprisoned? How do we help the victims of crime?
FRIGHTENINGLY, it happens again and again in the United States! Killers, muggers, rapists, sex molesters many who even have confessed to their grisly crimes are released from police custody or prisons to freely walk the streets. They're set free because of some loophole in the law or failure to perfectly fulfill some technicality in the prosecution. Within weeks of their release, many of these same criminals commit new serious crimes. On occasion, we are startled to hear of persons sometimes erroneously sentenced to long prison terms. Some have been convicted because of mistaken identity by witnesses, or by testimony of lying witnesses. Perhaps there was community prejudice against the person, or a frame up. Perhaps overzealousness by police to find a suspect and solve a case. Or a prejudicial newspaper or judge swayed a jury. No one knows how often innocent persons are convicted of crimes. But it happens. Only slowly and agonizingly do the wheels of justice sometimes turn and such evils are corrected.
World of Injustice
The English speaking world, at times, decries the methods of justice used in certain areas of the world. In some nations, citizens can be picked up by police or authorities upon the flimsiest of pretexts and held in prison without trial. Under some governments, persons afoul of the law or in disfavor with those in power are executed without trials. Kangaroo courts, or mock trials, may mete out cruel justice on the whims of the presiding official. Confessions true or false may be beaten out of suspects. Though there is much injustice in the world, we need to keep the issue of justice in proper focus. Some nations handle crime and justice problems more effectively than others. There are still conscientious judges and qualified lawyers. There are fair decisions rendered in many court cases. And there are honest law enforcement officials and honest officials of government. Much depends upon individual character and training. God commands humans to maintain respect at all times for officers of justice and government, even if one doesn't agree with everything they do (Romans, chapter 13). But along with this fact, the truth is most societies also have experiences with crooked judges and greedy, unethical lawyers. There are corrupt policemen, and prosecutors who will drop criminal charges if paid a sufficient sum. In the United States, many citizens have become upset over the widespread practice of plea bargaining because it so often seems to make a mockery of justice. Under this procedure, thousands of criminals are given reduced sentences or probation by pleading guilty to a lesser crime than for the one for which they were originally indicted. Ninety percent of all convictions in the United States are obtained through plea bargains. The plea-bargaining procedure, hammered out by judges, prosecutors and defendants' lawyers, often behind closed doors, is justified to speed cases through courts clogged with heavy backlogs of cases, or to avoid a costly jury trial, or when it is difficult to get evidence for a conviction. The consequence of this practice is many criminals repeatedly get off with light sentences and go unpunished for the serious crimes they really did commit. Through this procedure another evil may develop. Indicted but ignorant citizens are sometimes cowed into accepting a guilty plea for a crime they didn't commit when a jury trial would have found them innocent of the original charge. Said one trial judge of the inaccuracies of such assembly-line justice in the United States: "Most judges are so burdened with simply getting through a day and 'disposing' of the allotted quota of cases that they are usually too weary to undertake the painful examination of the justice, morality or common sense of the sentence they impose." Too, justice is often denied because justice is delayed. Delay is virtually guaranteed in many courts clogged with cases, or by drawn-out court procedures, or by planned tactical delays of litigants. Sharp lawyers use every tactic they can to delay prosecution of guilty clients. They know the longer the delay the more likely their clients will be acquitted. Some lawyers hope that witnesses will lose memories of events, or they will become unwilling to testify, or move away or even die. In some types of serious crime, lawyers use appeal after appeal to delay a prison term. In some jurisdictions, there is one justice for the rich and another for the poor. Wealthier criminal defendants often get off with comparatively light sentences for corruption or theft of public or corporate funds because they can afford the best lawyers to defend them, while the poor are often unrepresented, or poorly represented, and pay proportionately far heavier penalties for theft or dishonesty. Today, justice may not even be dependent upon a commonly accepted standard of good and evil. We live in an age where a judge, on the basis of personal ideas of right and wrong, can let felons convicted of serious crimes or dishonesty off lightly or be acquitted, and citizens can do nothing about the decision. Judges in the highest courts are often divided philosophically in their values, outlook and decisions. This failure to agree upon a common moral/spiritual base for determining right and wrong at the highest levels of decision-making frequently produces conflicting judgments about what is acceptable human activity. Citizens are angry and alarmed. Many are tempted to take matters into their own hands and arm themselves with whatever means they can to protect themselves. The widespread failure of justice to deter criminals and brazen young thugs is precisely the reason numbers of fear-stricken citizens in the United States, in highly publicized incidents, have taken it upon themselves to shoot down criminals or others who threaten them. As the perception of injustice grows, the foundations of orderly, peaceful society with respect for law and order weaken and edge ever closer to anarchy.
Explosion of Civil Disputes
Another social evil now plagues the judicial system in the United States. The American system of justice has experienced an explosion of millions of civil lawsuits of citizen against citizen. Many of these complaints traditionally used to be resolved through church, school or family. Now, over any grievance, children are suing parents, patients are suing doctors, clients are suing lawyers, employees are suing employers, parishioners are suing clergymen, businessmen sue each other and neighbors sue neighbors. This onslaught of adversary lawsuits to sue anyone over any real or imagined problem has made citizens feel vulnerable to the whims of an offended passerby, customer, neighbor or associate.
Origin of Adversary Conflicts
Why do so many adversary relationships exist between human beings? Why so much hostility and vengefulness in resolving disputes? It's human nature, many say. That may be true. But any explanation that doesn't answer the true cause and solution for human nature fails to get to the bottom of human criminality and injustice. The Bible reveals the reason for human attitudes that cause the adversary conflict. The origin of. adversary relationships began before man was created. It started with a great spirit being, an archangel, named Lucifer in Latin. His original Hebrew name means "Lightbringer." This being was put over the earth by the Creator to administer the government of God. But he wasn't satisfied with his high position. He wanted the top position of power for himself. He reasoned the "get" way the accumulation of power and wealth for oneself, even if it meant taking it away from or hurting others was what he wanted. God's laws, by contrast, are based on love for others, on concern and respect for others as much as concern for yourself. But Lucifer began to reason God's way of love wasn't the best way. Lust perverted his mind. "You [Lucifer] were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity [lawlessness] was found in you," reveals God in Ezekiel 28:15 (Revised Authorized Version). Lucifer decided to be a competitor with God. "I will make myself like the Most High," he said (Isa. 14:14, Revised Standard Version). Lucifer was able to draw away one third of God's angels with him in his ultimate rebellion (see Revelation 12:4). He did it through subtly lying about and defaming God's character, God's laws and purposes. Now get this! God names many things after their true nature or character" Lucifer, because of his hostile attitudes, had his name changed from Lightbringer to Satan, meaning "Adversary." Satan, the adversary, became the first criminal and warmaker. He attempted by conquest to boot God, his Maker, off his throne over the universe. But Satan miscalculated the awesome power of God. He and his violence bent army of angels, now demons, were flung back down to earth. "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven," said Jesus (Luke 10:18). Jesus said Satan was a murderer from the beginning of his rebellion and the father of lies (John 8:44). Jesus also warned that human beings could allow Satan's attitudes of deceit, lying, false accusation, hate, lust and rebellion to enter their minds if they did not guard the doors of their minds (see verses 38, 41, 44, same chapter). Notice what the apostle Paul revealed to early Christians about their lives before conversion. They had been "following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2, RSV). Grasp that! Humans not only learn wrong ways of living and wrong attitudes from other misguided humans or damaging cultural practices, but Satan has power to sway people, or broadcast his evil nature and attitudes and perverted sense of justice through the air; and unsuspecting human minds can pick 'up such moods and attitudes, nourish them and develop them as a very part of their human nature. Remember what happened to millions in Europe who were swept off their feet by Hitler and Mussolini? How many today have been taught or know that an invisible spirit being is broadcasting wrong attitudes throughout the atmosphere into the minds of unsuspecting humanity? A humanity that in many instances does not even believe a devil exists? How many realize that humans, in varying degrees, have absorbed Satan's attitudes into their minds? Some individuals and cultures absorb more than others. There are reasons why. Scripture reveals Satan has deceived and influenced the whole world with his corrupt attitudes and perverted sense of justice. Read it for yourself in Revelation 12:9.
Why Societies Became Unjust
It all began with the very first human couple, Adam and Eve. They were offered the opportunity to live by and administer the government of God over the earth. God instructed them in basic knowledge of right and wrong. He commanded them to multiply and to rule by his law of love over the creation on earth. But because they were free moral agents and had to develop character, God allowed Satan to approach them with his ways. Quickly, Satan insinuated to Adam and Eve that God lied and was untrustworthy. Eve falsely reasoned in her mind and took what God forbade. Adam weakly dropped his leadership role and followed her. They both allowed themselves to take from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In effect, they would decide for themselves what was good and evil; they would rely on their own thinking and reasoning instead of God's. An attitude of hostility toward God and his ways was now in their minds. God then told them, in effect, that because of their disobedience they and their progeny could develop their own cultures, their own ideas of good and evil, their own systems of living under the sway of Satan, and experience the results. The record of Scripture reveals the first act of human injustice. Cain slew his brother Abel because of jealousy and hatred (Gen. 4). Soon the earth became filled with crime, violence and all kinds of injustice among human beings until God had to destroy mankind except for Noah and his sons and their wives (Genesis, chapters 6-8). Scripture, and written human histories also, record one competing human culture or system of government after another. Every system in turn became corrupt, violent and ridden with injustice. Mankind has developed systems that fail to cope properly with human nature with lying, selfishness, lust and greed. Men have failed because they have rejected revealed knowledge from the Creator rejected the ways they should be living. Injustice is caused by broken spiritual law. It is caused by breaking the immutable spiritual laws God set in motion to maintain peace, happiness and security for both individuals and nations. God has revealed and defined these spiritual, moral laws in Scripture. Crime and injustice begin when humans violate these great spiritual laws revealed in the Ten Commandments! Many nations have ignored or twisted these laws in the development of their laws and societies. The most important law of right living is maintaining a right relationship with the Creator. The breaking of God's and often human law begins when individuals fail to maintain respect for the Creator and his laws foremost in their minds and actions. "... By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil" (Prov. 16:6). The fear of God causes humans to seriously consider all they do and to strive to live and think rightly, because they realize God is going to have them give an account of their lives to their Maker. Next, true justice in relations with other human beings is built upon the laws of the Ten Commandments that regulate relationships between human beings. These laws command every individual to honor parents, not to murder (or to hate, which is the spirit of murder), not to commit adultery, not to steal from others, or bear false witness (tell lies) about any matter, and not to covet property or things of others. God's instructions in Scripture magnify these laws; they teach us the spirit and intent of God's laws, how to love our neighbor, and what are right and wrong attitudes and human relationships. The attitude undergirding proper relations with other humans is summarized in Scripture as, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18; Mark 12:31, RAV) and, "love worketh no ill to his neighbour" (Rom. 13:10).
True Justice Defined
A truly effective justice system does not begin with lots of policemen on the streets. True justice can occur only when all levels of society, young and old, are taught and accept a right standard of right and wrong behavior. An effective justice system starts first with the family unit that teaches children from the very beginning of their comprehension their responsibility to do right. Justice is encouraged through adult examples of self-discipline and obedience to law-persons who deal honestly and fairly with all others in business and social affairs. Justice is secured when all institutions of society impress on minds of all ages society's inevitable and speedy penalty on wrongdoers. Proper justice deters those who are tempted to commit crime or wrongdoing because it maintains a track record, of discovery, prosecution and retribution swift and sure. True justice is built on a clearly defined system of legal procedure and careful fact-finding by qualified and mature judges who quickly but fairly get to the roots of crime or civil conflict. True justice goes beyond mere physical facts of a case and discerns intents and attitudes of mind. True justice is not a system of one kind of justice for the rich and powerful, and another for the poor and helpless. In true justice one system of judgment exists for wrongdoing regardless of race, sex, economic or political status. Proper justice swiftly but accurately considers all pertinent facts about a crime or conflict. And it punishes wrongdoers according to the gravity of their wrongdoing. But there is also mercy at genuine repentance of wrongdoing. Finally, yet often neglected today, true justice will make the criminal or wrongdoer properly remunerate his or her victim for the harm, loss and emotional pain caused by his wrongdoing. In sum, a proper system of justice uplifts and protects a whole community and nation. It raises respect for law, law enforcement and government. It encourages maintenance of proper human relations at all times in all levels of society. It encourages humans to change defects in their character. It fairly remunerates victims of wrongdoing. What a wonderful system of justice! Who wouldn't like to live in a nation even a world with justice like this! Well, the wonderful news is, it's going to happen! The Bible announces it! This announcement is, in fact, the gospel message the good news Jesus brought more than 19 centuries ago the same good news we announce in The Plain Truth.