March 05, 2016

Source: Bigstock

Prisoners are not eligible for parole unless they admit their crimes and express contrition in the right quarters. I have known convicted murderers who always proclaimed their innocence (and who, for all I knew, might have been innocent, miscarriages of justice not being unknown) placed in a cruel dilemma: They would not be released from prison for many more years unless they confessed to what they had always proclaimed they had not done, and expressed sorrow for having done it, thereby in effect losing forever the chance of proving their innocence. I have known prisoners convicted of murder but claiming to be innocent who confessed in order to obtain parole and similar prisoners who refused to do so. If I had to put my money on which of them were actually innocent, I would put it on those who refused to confess and therefore were punished the more. But, of course, my intuition is not evidence. It is reliance upon such intuitions that the law is supposed to eliminate; and the system of parole relies on a mixture of such intuitions and uncertain statistics about the likelihood of reoffending. Sentences should be determinate.

The judge was suffering from what might be called residual Christianity syndrome. She thought initially that it was her place to be mercifully forgiving of sins, provided they were humbly confessed before her, thereby also fulfilling the injunction (on behalf of society) to turn the other cheek. But forgiveness of the kind she wanted to exercise belongs to God, not to Man. It was to transfer to the secular realm what belonged in another, transcendent realm, while actual belief in the existence of that realm has all but disappeared.

The reverse of the coin of moral grandiosity is, of course, morbid sensitivity to mockery or sleights. In sending the two brothers to jail after their comments, she said that what they had written was “€œoffensive and [had] sexual content directed at me as a judge, and also as a woman judge…. Their tenor was boastful and jeering and the only reasonable inference was, they thought they had somehow fooled and misled the court.”€

Revenge is mine, saith the Judge.


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