The wise and brilliant Thomas Sowell once wondered why we need to use precious and costly court time and resources to hear the family and friends of murder victims testify about the impact of their losses. Paraphrasing his question from my memory of his post from many years ago, Sowell’s question went something like this: “Can’t we just assume that the loved ones of those who’ve been murdered are angry and sad about their loss?”
I agreed with him then and still do. Cold as it may sound, courts are not supposed to be a forum for victim venting, but more importantly, this habit we’ve adopted of devoting part of a trial to impact statements tarnishes what is supposed to be blind and impartial justice. Does the murderer who kills a homeless man with no one to mourn his loss deserve any less justice than the murderer who kills a father of four? Does the child with no one to testify because his own parents murdered him deserve less justice than the murdered child whose parents are devastated by their terrible loss? Some people will be missed more than others, but all people deserve the same impartial justice, likewise for the perpetrators.
What reminded me of Sowell’s post from so long ago were reports from the James Holmes (Colorado theater shooter) murder trial where, over the past few days, the loved ones of his many victims have been testifying about their deceased and injured loved ones. One Fox News reporter informed viewers that: “The judge told the jurors over and over again that they need to put their emotions to the side and use reasoned, moral judgement in deciding the proper sentence for Holmes…” Doesn’t it seem counter intuitive to incorporate hours and hours of emotional testimony from devastated loved ones and then ask the jury to disregard their emotions and use “reasoned, moral judgment?” Why not create a separate forum for the loved ones of the victims of convicted criminals to address the perpetrators, one that does not involve all of those people necessary for conducting a trial and does not require jurors to listen to emotional testimony which they are then expected to disregard?
Just food for thought…