Law vs. Justice: Mother charged for jaywalking after child killed
Every day, there’s another lesson in why the government must be limited, restrained, put on a leash and forced to go on a massive diet. But some times, those lessons are more twisted and sick than others. Radley Balko fills us in:
On April 10, 2010, Raquel Nelson lost her 4-year-old son. Nelson was crossing a busy Marietta, Georgia, street with her son and his two siblings when they were struck by a hit-and-run driver. Police were able to track down the driver, Jerry Guy, who later admitted he had been drinking and had taken painkillers the night of the accident. He was also mostly blind in one eye. Guy had already been convicted of two prior hit-and-runs. He pleaded guilty, served six months of his five-year sentence, and was released last October.
If it ended there, this story would merely be tragic. But it gets worse. Last week Nelson herself was convicted on three charges related to her son’s death: reckless conduct, improperly crossing a roadway and second-degree homicide by vehicle. Each is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in prison. Nelson could spend up to six times as many months in jail as the man who struck her son and then fled the scene. Nelson’s crime: jaywalking.
That’s right, folks: a poor woman just lost her son, and now she’s going to jail because they weren’t in the crosswalk when they were hit. Three years in jail, to be exact. This brings up an important point: the distinction between law vs. justice.
Justice is what happens at the end of every good movie (“good” as in not having a downer ending). The bad guy is exposed for the villain he is, he gets his butt kicked, receives his just desserts, while the good guy goes home to live in peace, a wrong being corrected. Justice is ensuring that bad things are erased and corrected, or at the very least, some amends are made. I would like to think, if justice was some sentient force, that it would be essentially good-natured.
Law, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. It is an unfathomably large and complicated assembly of rules, dictums, and code. It is fundamentally uncaring and has no interest in what is wrong or right, only in what is “proper.” Proper, in this context, means slavishly following the rules, even if that means causing harm to someone. But law doesn’t care. It’s only concerned with itself.
I think that’s where the solicitor general’s office got mixed up here. Their job is, ostensibly, about ensuring justice for the community, but they conflated justice with rigorously following the law, and in the process have done considerable damage. It’s not hard to see why. As Balko points out, a prosecutor is a “political” position, elected by the public, and the prosecutor has one very important statistic to use in his or her reelection campaign: the number of convictions made. More convictions supposedly mean that the prosecutor is doing a good job, catching the bad guys, even when he or she quite honestly isn’t.
If I might go off on a slight digression here, there’s something else about this: the entire case seems to indicate that the prosecution here is off its medication and is quite bonkers. How else could you possibly send a woman to jail for three years for jailwalking when, by all accounts, she was running into the road to save her son from being hit by a truck. That’s like throwing someone in jail who jumps into a river to save a drowning child for watershed contamination. That’s not just wrong, that’s not just a “perversion of justice/law” or what-have-you, that is insane. I don’t like throwing out this kind of langauge against anyone in political debates, because it quickly delegitimizes everyone, but it must be mentioned here. A prosecutor who pushs a case like this is thoroughly unqualified for the job, period. End of story. The prosecutor should be debarred and go through a psychological examination, on the grounds that no sane person would put this woman through more torment than she has already gone through.
Back to less ranty territory, there are other factors in this case: an all-white jury against a black defendant (and none of whom had ever used public transportation, which is where this happened: at a bus stop); city planning; overcharging. I will let others speak on those topics. What I think the take home lesson is (other than properly having a jury of one’s peers) we cannot have our judicial system based on elections by the public masses and then give them so much power to play with. It cannot work. Judges and prosecutors will seek to protect their jobs, and in doing so will shred and eviscerate justice, individual liberty, and civil rights in order to curry favor with the relatively uninvolved, uncritically unthinking populace. Mob rule, essentially. (“She’s a witch!”)
But then, maybe we should just stop giving so much power to the judiciary in the first place. Let’s stop making so much law. Then maybe we’d have some justice.