In general, I believe that the civil and criminal justice system in this country does a good job in both protecting the rights of the participants and the needs of society in resolving civil disputes and punishing criminal behavior.   I would not have spent the majority of my working life in that system if I did not believe in the process.

That does not mean that I have not, also, marveled over the years as to how incredibly ridiculous, absurd, and disturbing that system can be when it goes wrong.   I was prompted to write this after I read an article about a convicted kidnapper who sued his victims because they did not keep the promises they made to him while they were in captivity.  The basis for his action was breach of an oral contract.  The only thing that saved this from being totally off the charts was that he pursued this without the aid of an attorney.  If there had been an attorney willing to take this case, I would have to hang my head in shame and never again admit that I too am an attorney.  We can hope but should not assume that this case will eventually be thrown out of court.

For anyone who remembers the Bernie Goetz incident, you know that even as the victim of a crime you can be successfully sued by the perpetrator if you dare to use force to protect yourself.  There have been a number of such successful law suits where criminals have sued their victims because they were injured while breaking into their homes, or trying to rob and mug them, or carjacking their vehicle.  The premise seems to be that you should make it as easy as possible for your attacker, hope that you are not harmed, and that the criminal is caught and years later after all of the legal wrangling is convicted and punished.   We do not want to become a vigilante society where we actually take action to protect ourselves, do we, particularly since the police are always there to protect us?

Cases such as the hot coffee verdict have become iconic and emblematic of the abuses and excesses of personal injury litigation with attorney ads filling the airways promising all of the compensation that you deserve from ailments that can hardly be pronounced.   If someone got sick or hurt from something there is a law firm somewhere specializing in suing everyone involved.  To me, this is not the worst of it even though I do believe that we need a major overhaul of our system of personal injury litigation.

In the criminal justice system there is more at stake and more to lose when things go wrong.  I still can’t reconcile myself to the fact that the woman in Florida with the missing child was not convicted.  Her case is not the first or even the most notorious travesty of our criminal justice system.  We all remember that famous murder trial that seemed to hinge on the one pivotal statement “if it don’t fit you must acquit.”   Wow, what a compelling argument.   I know that we want to err on the side of the innocent and only convict truly guilty people; however, I have and will continue to argue that our criminal justice system has also made a mockery of victims’ rights when incompetent prosecutors or misguided juries let obviously guilty people go free.

Alright, perhaps, I may have gone too far when I accused the justice system of being nuts; however, it should be able to fulfill its obligations to be fair, impartial, and just without also being out of touch with reality or lacking common sense.

Joe looks at this subject from a different perspective on Wednesday in “Our Hypocrisy With Innocence”