To whom has the Creator prescribed justice? To the rich, or to the poor?
Beneath every breast a singular answer lies, being placed by that holy finger therein so that men, having no excuse in transgression, could be brought to account for every violation of equity. Yet in the United States of America, though men oftentimes proudly proclaim themselves blind to status, that both rich and poor have equal standing in courts of law, quite the opposite can be proven when the reach of capital is considered.
For though men may argue otherwise -- i.e., that American justice favors equality because its officers are paid with public funding, and bribery has been banned -- the existence of the criminal lawyer's profession quickly reduces a prideful illusion to shameful reality. For lawyers themselves market their value, and whether due to marketing or simple observation, it is a value with which the American public is well-acquainted. If one desires a lesser punishment for a crime, or perhaps no punishment at all, a quality lawyer is necessary -- but if one has not the funding to acquire such, he's likely to receive a more severe punishment.
And what is funding, if not the power to allocate resources according to one's desires, to wrest them away from another course, to channel a stream of substance over its previous banks into a pool of one's own? This redirection gives money a particularly miraculous function: the allocation of goods and services not necessarily where they are needed most, but where they can be most compensated, prevailing even over ignorance of market forces and dispensing goods where it is believed more can be made of them. But in respect of one's fellow man, such dispensation admits that certain "resources" shouldn't be allocated according to the price mechanism. For there is no one man who needs justice more than another, and therefore, justice should not -- cannot, in a moral society -- be allocated according to price. And when judicial equality has been violated, certain classes and individuals being elevated above their countrymen in the dispensation of law, their very social bonds become eroded, the government becomes untrustworthy, and a sentiment of resentful subjection permeates the underclasses.
It's easy, at this point, to suggest that society could do well if all criminal lawyers were publicly funded. But if men are careful, they'll undoubtedly note a problem more complex than simple pricing exists: they must first consider where the fault lies, whether in the judicial system itself or in the lawyer. For if the lawyer advertises correctly, and he delivers the rights of citizens according to the legislature's most unadulterated intent, then the failure resides in an inept judicial system, and the system itself deserves reform. But if the criminal lawyer finds professional work not because of judicial failings, but because he in effect reduces or altogether removes an intended and deserved penalty, then his work serves against the greater good. The question, then, isn't so much whether men should hire others to acquire appropriate sentencing, but why that sentencing is skewed in the first place.
It's not so difficult to imagine how the modern system, in which judicial liberty permits magistrates a certain leeway in sentencing, was conceived. Certain men, exhibiting obvious signs of repentance, and possessing a generally good reputation, evoke nothing less than heartfelt pity in their judges and peers -- a reluctance to pass a judgment which on other men may seem equitable. Contrastingly, there are certain men who, though committing the same crimes, may have done so with a malice so abominable to society that it almost seems unjust to pass an average sentence.
Out of the knowledge that certain crimes, though equal in physical harm, are really very different -- such as the difference between manslaughter and murder -- was born a system confirmed even by biblical law, in which judgments for similar (but not morally identical) actions may be tried differently. According to Moses, a man who had stolen goods and confessed guilt would simply restore them, plus a fifth of their worth. But a person who stole and destroyed something critical to the maintenance of subsistence, without returning it of his own accord -- say, an ox for plowing -- would be forced to restore five times as much. In each case, thievery was committed; but though content of the thief's heart was weighed -- not by simple words, but by his observable external deeds-- and though implications for the victim were also considered, this form of sentencing was anything but capricious. For neither thief could equitably receive the other's sentence, and there were many other crimes in biblical law which, though hearts and implications may have varied greatly, resulted in a perfect equality of sentencing.
Herein lies the difference between the systems ancient and modern: the terms by which biblical sentences could be determined was not manipulated by simple judicial sympathy, but matched with equitable, invariable, predetermined penalties. For to do otherwise, granting emotion to authority, would result in a system manipulated by rhetoric and sympathy, the verdicts given not in justice, but according to the talents of lawyers. One couldn't simply pay a lawyer in biblical times to sway a jury with his teary eyes and a golden tongue; one could simply convince the judge that the defined parameters of a certain crime had been met, and then specific sentencing would be passed. A kind-spoken, baby-faced criminal couldn't reliably employ his natural gifts in a court of law, because he and the ugliest of criminals were evaluated in a manner unfavorable to superficiality.
In the Mosaic system, in which the sole value of a court was to match a specific behavior with a specific invariable punishment, equality belonged to every man, and justice wasn't a limited resource to be allocated to the well-funded, but the duty of a society responsible to their Creator. In dispensation of justice, it addressed different kinds of thievery, but never allowed two equal kinds to receive different sentences; it addressed all wrongful deaths, but distinguished between manslaughter and murder.
Here is a lesson to be heard, should Americans be so wise as to listen. Civilization, though men may argue otherwise, doesn't lie in capital and property; capital and property are results of civilization. And therefore, though capital and property oftentimes spring from order and virtue, the former two must never be exalted above the latter two, capital and property given substantial compass within a liberated society, but stopping in subjection where virtue forbids them entry.
Justice is not purchased with funds and goods, a commodity to be bought and sold in the markets. It is sustained with sweat, and the blood of citizens. It is defined not by legislators, but by God; it is upheld not by employees, but by public servants; it is defended not by the corporation or by the firm, but by the vigilant and the righteous. In its triumph is found civilization; in its failure is found war. For civilization itself is nothing more than the triumph of righteousness over wickedness, and righteousness has no market for inequitable sentencing.
Shall our justice be purchased, then, or shall it belong to every beggar? If we in nobility refuse the former as unacceptable, then our standard has already been set. It behooves every American, then, to reassess the eternal yardstick, and restore honor to both our courts, and the once-respected profession of lawyers.
Jeremy Egerer is a recent convert to biblical conservatism from radical liberalism and the editor of the Seattle website www.americanclarity.com. American Clarity welcomes friend requests on Facebook.