verdict handed down by every jury, or every penalty or consequence
attached to every verdict. Yet I do believe that everyone who is ever
caught up in a situation that takes them to court — whether for a
disagreement or for a murder — both wants and hopes for justice at the
hands of a jury.
That’s right; I said “hopes for,” not “expects,” justice, since it’s
sort of a 50-50 chance as to whether the jury will decide in your
favor or not. Unfortunately, when there are at least two sides to a
story, someone on the side that does not prevail will always feel that
justice has not been done. Will that mean justice has not been served?
The only true picture of Justice has to include that blindfold. If
Justice — let’s call her Lady Justice — even peeks, she could sway the
outcome by the color of your skin or some other visual sign that isn’t
even relevant to your case, if she wanted to, and you’d be the first
one to jump up and down by such an outrage. But in real courtrooms and
dealing with real juries, everyone will know the color of your skin,
the relative ages of the parties involved in your case, whether you
are skinny or heavy-set, and even whether the witnesses for or against
you are well-dressed, well-groomed, and well-educated… or not.
You’ll be dealing with wide-eyed and open-eared prosecutors and
defense attorneys, and wide-eyed and open-eared judges and members of
the jury. And in addition to the jurors’ eyes and ears, they will have
brought with them to this moment in court everything they have learned
or experienced about people in general and in particular; and all that
will be further subject to the particular challenges in their own
life: how they felt when they got up that morning, the ease or
difficulty they might have in seeing through an attorney’s “showtime”
presentation, and the ease or difficulty they might have in discerning
fact from fiction or supposition. And heaven forbid that they have any
preconceived prejudices that only now have decided to surface, whether
they ever really came out before or not.
There apparently is a feeling that goes along with the various ways to
define the word “justice.” We might know that its definition includes
the quality of being just, righteousness, equitableness, and even
moral rightness — as in upholding the justice of a cause. We probably
also know that justice includes the administering of deserved
punishment or reward.
But sometimes those who speak of justice speak of it for themselves,
or for the person for whom they are rooting, or for the person who
happens to belong to the group at large to which they themselves
belong. Consider that if we cannot root for justice on its own behalf,
perhaps we are not really rooting for justice!
There is an old saying that might be relevant here: “I would rather
feel compassion than know its definition.” Obviously, “compassion”
lives in the realm of feelings. But if we use that concept about
compassion and apply it to the realm of “justice,” it might be worded
something like this: “I would rather have justice be served than have
things turn out the way I want them to.”
I may not have heard every relevant comment, or seen every relevant
sign or article in regard to “Justice for Trayvon,” but in all that I
have seen or heard, it seems that something was missing: a cry for
Justice itself! I do not believe that there should ever need to be
single-sized servings of justice in this country. What I mean by that
is that justice should be one-size-fits-all. Justice, period. To claim
justice for this person or that person sounds like a rallying call for
getting an outcome that matches up with the wishes of the rallyers.
What if that outcome were not true justice? Would the rallyers still
want an outcome that did NOT reflect justice?
I am always on the side of truth. Truth has no color and does not
suffer from close examination. In the hands of those who recognize it
and are in a position to do something about it, most often truth leads
to justice. Truth in the hands of those who do not like what that
truth is, can be adjusted or tweaked to lead to a different outcome,
to something that reflects what the truth-rejecters prefer. I cannot
always know which side is reflecting the truth any more than you. We
think… we want… but we don’t know. Therefore, we put it all in the
hands of Lady Justice.
Even when each side is presenting their story as they lived it, or
remember it to have been — and those stories are very different from
each other — they can each still be telling the truth to the extent
it’s possible to do so. But what will be missing from the total
picture is the third side of the story: the actual truth. And that is
why we in this country do our best to have those “stories” come out in
a court of law, complete with a jury of disinterested parties (meaning
parties unbiased by personal interest or advantage, and not influenced
by selfish motives of any kind) whose sole role is to sift through
everything that the prosecutors and defense attorneys and judges think
is relevant enough in order to reach that final just verdict.
When society is outraged by a deed, they look to who committed that
deed and try to describe that person in the harshest of ways. When
they want to soften the image of the perpetrator or the victim, they
will use words that conjure up the best possible image of that
defendant or victim. It serves no purpose to either tear down the
victim — he has already suffered the greatest blow — or build him up —
as if the saintlier he was, the greater the crime; neither approach
addresses the deed. But it somehow always seems to serve a purpose to
bring out the worst in the perpetrator. That’s why we have trials.
What I am suggesting is that truth does not need any partners, and
certainly not any “partners-in-crime,” as if some little fact about
what the victim bought the night he was killed could cast any more of
the burden of guilt on the one who pulled the trigger.
We live in a country where we will continue to have trial by jury
until such a freedom is no longer ours. We all hope and maybe even
pray that we will never be caught up in the criminal justice system.
But if we are, we need to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth. We need to NOT give any ammunition to the other side in
the form of untruths if we can in any way help it — “I don’t remember”
is always better than misremembering and giving an answer that
conflicts with a previous one.
A certain lawyer once told me that there are only four responses to a
simple yes or no question: Yes. No. I don’t know. I don’t remember.
Anything else, he told me, always sounds like a lie. Obviously, many
questions require more than such a short answer, but if we stick to
the truth and nothing but the truth, hopefully, eventually, justice
will be served.
As much as any one of us wants justice, we can’t order it up to be
what we want it to be. If we are ever ready to open our hearts to the
third side of the story, the actual truth, maybe someday we can ALL be
blind to the things that don’t matter and really mean it when we say
those words: “…and justice for all.”
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She
writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email
her at firstname.lastname@example.org.