Who Deserves Due Process?

Rebecca-Nurse-Salem-Witch-Trials-Memorial-MarkerYou may have heard of a horrific case in southeastern PA this week, involving a single mother, her boyfriend and her murdered 3-year-old son. I’m not interested in reviewing the horrendous details of the alleged crime. The accused are both facing the death penalty, and rightly so. What concerns me is one aspect of the public’s reaction and what it says about our society, our freedom and values and, ultimately, the apparent demise of intelligent thought in America.

The reaction I’m speaking of has been and is being expressed in many places and many forms, but it’s encapsulated nicely in this gem from a commenter on the Daily Local website: “Any lawyer that defends these sub humans [sic] is not fit to live.” Generally speaking, comments on news websites aren’t worth a response, but this sentiment is dangerously widespread and, I think, is evidence of a deeper problem. It is the same mentality that justifies drone-launched “signature strikes” or the waterboarding of terrorism suspects because “terrorists don’t deserve due process.” It is the same mentality that excuses police officers for the shooting of an unarmed man, or the deliberate use of a Taser on a handcuffed woman, because of the victim’s past criminal record. In essence, it is the entirely irrational view that the legal protections and procedures we call due process are too good for some criminals.

Why irrational? Because due process protections aren’t for the criminals, they are for the innocent. Of course terrorists don’t deserve due process. Neither do people who slowly murder little children. Neither, I might add, do people who quickly murder old men, or rape, or enslave, or commit any number of other evil crimes against their fellow creatures. They deserve justice. But there is the rub: due process matters if justice is to be done, because only through the meticulous pursuit of the truth in the context of presumed innocence can we avoid the double tragedy – the crime of crimes – that is committed when the law punishes the innocent instead of the guilty.

Do I really think that this couple might be innocent? No, I don’t. In this country, the likelihood of police, prosecutors, medical workers and media conspiring together to invent such a horrific tale is next to nil. But why? In many countries today, people are regularly accused, condemned and imprisoned or executed on bare, unsupported allegations from those who have much to gain by it. In this country, not that long ago, enslaved blacks were frequently punished for crimes they did not commit – even could not have committed – because they were excluded from the due process protection of the law. We look back with horror, appropriate horror, on legal abuses like the Salem witch trials, the horrific anti-treason laws in seventeenth century England, the reign of terror in post-revolutionary France, or the mass murder of Stalin’s collectivization program in Ukraine. Those things are not happening in America today because of a legal system that, while far from perfect and strongly skewed against the accused, still presents formidable obstacles to systematic, widespread miscarriages of justice like these.

The person who posted that comment is absolutely certain of the accused couple’s guilt. But they knew nothing of the case except what they had just read. Their confidence is probably justified precisely because of the system and the defense lawyers they so despise. If we as a society are willing to waive due process and presumption of innocence in cases where we feel the accused are undeserving, we open the door to unspeakable crimes under the color of law in the future.

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About Patrick G. Kocher
Patrick G. Kocher is a liberty minded Republican activist from southeast PA. He is a constitutionalist and history junkie whose political thinking is heavily influenced by Jefferson, Madison, Bastiat, Hayek and, most recently, Ron Paul. A committed Christian, Patrick is a member of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He and his wife, Georgina, live in Chester County, PA with their four children.

3 Responses to Who Deserves Due Process?

  1. Daniel says:

    As I understand it, the guy actually made a public apology and accepted responsibility. When it comes to the other two women in the home, I think things are a lot less defined since we do not know what sort of abuse they may have been threatened by or the dynamic in the home.

    If my understanding is wrong and he did not accept guilt, then obviously I would retract my opinion.

  2. My point is that the need for, and the value of, due process transcends the details of any case or circumstances.

  3. Daniel says:

    Very true.

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