It is a word spoken often. Justice for the injured, justice for the dead, justice for the poor, the disenfranchised, the mentally ill.
By “justice” do you mean “fair”?
By “justice” do you mean “equal”?
By “justice” do you mean “revenge”?
Is it “payback”?
After nearly 30 years in the criminal courtrooms of California, the answer is “all and none of the above”.
The California headlines today were about some people standing in a courtroom accused of bribery and conspiracy for allegedly paying LOTS of money to get their children into specific universities and colleges. They were freed on one million dollar bonds. (More on this issue: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-loughlin-huffman-college-cheating-20190313-story.html)
That sounds like a lot of money but, to these particular people, they easily paid the price for temporary freedom. The cost was a mere fraction of their assets.
In 30 years of criminal defense work, the bail fight was almost always one of persuading a judge to set an amount the defendant could pay. It was almost always a losing argument. If the client had a job that they would lose by incarceration prior to any conviction, most judges were not impressed. If it would cause the defendant to lose a car or a house or any other asset to be incarcerated, most judges weren’t impressed.
To be clear, I am talking low level crimes–shoplifting, petty theft, trespassing and the like. The discussion on heavier crimes like assault with injury, first degree burglary, auto theft (not joy-riding) rarely occurred. There were few arguments to be made. Unless you were not represented by the Public Defender. Economic status meant something even for the higher level crimes.
Over the years, the price of freedom for the petty theft went up. The price for white collar crime went down. The ratio between the loss to the victim and the cost to the accused became skewed. There was no fairness, no equality, no proportion between the two. Income, class and race were the dividing causes.
The headlines also screamed that California would, for the term of Governor Newsome, not execute anyone on Death Row. I state my bias upfront. I know a man who lives there. I represented him. I believe him to be innocent. For this discussion, I will leave an opinion piece from the New York Times.
There were times when I tried to discuss the disparities of race and gender with sitting judges. One or two acknowledged their biases None changed their ways. One was known for giving women defendants a “20% surcharge” because “woman aren’t suppose to act like this”. One gave nearly a 50% increase in sentences (for identical crimes) to Hispanics and Blacks. None were brought to task for their practices because of the way that the sentencing laws were written.