Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Law Or Justice?

I have been pondering an interesting thought this morning. It has occurred to me this morning that our nation's courts, judges, and lawyers are more interested in law than they are justice. Perhaps this is why I am so often flummoxed by the things that lawyers say and do. If this were not the case, how else could a lawyer get someone who is clearly guilty of breaking the law off on a technicality?

An acquaintance of mine is a law student and had the following question on an exam:

Assume that you finally have graduated from law school and have moved to the State of Nirvana, a jurisdiction which follows the general law of criminal procedure that you studied in this course. You have begun work in the Trial Division of the Nirvana Prosecuting Attorney's office and have been asked to evaluate a case in your office. Your task is to write a detailed and candid report to your supervisor, the Chief Prosecuting Attorney, determining the legal issues involved, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, and predicting the probable outcome of each issue at trial. Structure your report around the items of evidence that the Prosecuting Attorney probably will want to use against the defendant in this case. Following are the agreed-upon facts and procedures up to this point.

The defendant in the criminal case you are analyzing is Xiao-Ling (XL). XL is a 29-year-old woman and a recent Chinese immigrant with an only moderate command of the English language. At the time of the alleged crimes, XL was living in a small apartment at the back of her restaurant. XL is part-owner and manager of the restaurant, working there about twelve hours a day, every day.

Local Nirvana narcotics detectives have long suspected that members of the large local Chinese community were involved in the importation, sale, and distribution of illegal narcotics, particularly cocaine and heroin. The police believed that the narcotics were being brought in from a drug ring in Beijing, dominated by the Dong family. Police officers had no individual suspects locally but generally were watching the activities around the twenty-five Chinese restaurants in Nirvana, including XL's restaurant, in the hope that they might discover evidence of narcotics trafficking.

Two weeks ago on a Friday evening, undercover narcotics officers Able (A) and Baker (B), dressed in casual clothing, went to XL's restaurant at about 7:00 p.m. A and B had dinner and lingered at their table after eating. After a few minutes, A got up from the table and went back near the rear of the restaurant to the men's restroom. Meanwhile, B walked up to the front of the restaurant to talk with XL, who was sitting behind the cash register near the front door. B began to comment on the menu and asked XL how busy the restaurant had been lately. B then asked XL if she knew of the Dong family in Beijing, and XL responded: "Yes, we buy food from them." B then told XL that he was in the market for about ten kilos of high quality "Beijing coke" such as that available from the Dong family and asked XL if she could provide it to him. XL responded: "Tomorrow; noon; I have." B then left the restaurant.

As B and XL were talking up front, A left the men's restroom and looked across the hallway into the kitchen. Seeing no one in the kitchen at the time, A walked through the open doorway into the kitchen. In the far corner of the kitchen, A saw an unopened package addressed to XL and with a return address of "Dong Family; Beijing, China." Just at that moment, the cook came into the kitchen and asked A what he wanted. A mumbled something about looking for the men's room, and the cook directed A to that location.

Once out of the sight of the cook, A walked to the far rear of the hallway to the doorway to XL's apartment. An elaborate curtain covered the doorway, but by standing right next to the curtain and peering through the curtain's few openings, A could see into the apartment. On a table in the apartment, A could see a small weighing scale and small plastic bags such as often were used to divide up large quantities of drugs into small packages for sale to individuals. A wastepaper basket was sitting just inside the apartment doorway on the other side of the curtain. A reached around the curtain and grabbed a small paper bag out of the basket, noticing some sort of residue at the bottom of the bag. He stuffed the bag under his coat and walked through the restaurant and out the front door, joining B outside. The subsequent laboratory analysis of the contents of the bag showed traces of heroin.

The next morning, A and B applied for a search warrant for XL's restaurant and apartment. A and B told the magistrate that they had found the heroin bag in a trash can in the men's restroom, had seen the unopened package with the Dong return address on a table next to theirs in the dining area, and had seen the small weighing scale with white powder on it through an open, outside window into XL's apartment. The magistrate issued the warrant to search for illegal narcotics.

At noon, A and B returned to XL's restaurant with the search warrant but not telling anyone that they had the warrant. Not seeing XL out front in the dining area, B walked quickly back to the rear of the restaurant, pushed aside the curtain hanging at the doorway to XL's apartment, and stepped into the living room of the apartment. XL emerged from her bedroom and told B to wait for her out front. Instead of stepping back out of XL's apartment, B walked over to the table with the scales on it. B picked up a cardboard box from the floor, opened the top flaps, and saw plastic bags of white powder inside the box. B said "Is this the stuff I asked for?", and XL responded "No! Mine! Leave alone! Get out!"

Screaming in Chinese, XL stormed out into the restaurant where she encountered A talking with the cook. The cook had told A that the restaurant gets many packages from the Dong family in Beijing, and XL takes the packages back into her apartment. A approached XL and started to say something, but XL screamed at him: "I get lawyer!"

By then, B had come back out into the restaurant and walked up to XL. B read XL the Miranda warnings and asked if XL wanted to waive the rights. XL did not respond to B's question about waiving the rights but instead asked A and B "You cops?" B answered "yes," and XL responded "Then not talk!"

A and B then placed XL in handcuffs and put her in the backseat of a police car, along with the cardboard box full of white powder found in XL's apartment. Subsequent laboratory tests indicated the white powder was cocaine. A and B sat in the front seat of the police car and began driving down to the police station. B remarked: "Well, we finally found the Nirvana connection to Beijing's Dong family." A replied: "Yup, I think we hit the jackpot." At that point, XL said from the backseat: "Dumb narcs know nothing." B replied: "Sure, lady. We know all we need to know." XL then began to describe her involvement with the Dong Family. By the time the police car had reached the police station about 20 minutes later, XL had made several admissions as to her involvement in importing and selling cocaine and heroin out of her restaurant.

When they arrived at the police station, a retired real estate attorney named John who was a frequent customer of XL's restaurant was just walking by on the sidewalk. XL called out to John, and John came over to her and the officers. XL told John that she had been arrested and that her restaurant had been searched. XL then asked John whether she should be talking with the officers about all of this. John replied: "If you've got nothing to hide, you always should cooperate with the authorities. I'm sure this is all a big mistake and that you can explain everything." John then walked on his way, and XL and the officers entered the police station. XL then agreed to make a full, written confession to the police, which she did, taking over ten pages to complete.

You are now preparing the case for trial and have been asked by the Chief Prosecuting Attorney to write a detailed and candid memorandum structured around the items of evidence that the Prosecutor probably will want to use. The Prosecutor has listed the evidence which presumably will be used as follows:

1. "Yes, we buy food from them."
2. "Tomorrow; noon; I have."
3. Unopened package with Dong Family return address
4. Paper bag with heroin residue.
5. Cardboard box with bags of cocaine.
6. "No! Mine! Leave alone! Get out!"
7. Cook's statements as to packages from Dong.
8. XL's admissions while in police car.
9. XL's 10-page written confession.

Write your report.

Now I'm not a law student or an attorney, but based on the things that I have read and seen on TV, I would dare say that Xiao-Ling would stand a decent chance at getting off (with a good attorney) because of the unethical (and probably illegal) way that the police put their case together and handled her arrest.

That's not justice. That's law. Justice would demand that all of the parties that broke the law would be punished even if the evidence were not gathered legally.

Or for a more practical and common situation; is it just for people to be able to get out of a speeding ticket by hiring an attorney? What is just about that? That arrangement deprives the poor of the same "justice" afforded to the rich. Justice would demand that punishment be required of those who violate the law. No, our society does not love justice.

Perhaps this American mindset regarding the law is why so many have trouble understanding God's justice. God's justice is absolute and cannot be bribed. There is only one thing that will cause you to avoid paying the penalty for your crimes in God's court and that is the surrender of the lordship of your life to Jesus Christ. When we submit ourselves to Him and cry out for His mercy then He begins to advocate for us.

But even this advocacy isn't without justice, for Jesus satisfied the requirements of justice when He died for us. God poured out on Him the wrath that was reserved for those who ran to Him for mercy. But sadly, that wrath is still reserved for those who have not done so. If you have never surrendered your life to Jesus, please do so and hide yourself in Him from the wrath that is to come.


Donna said...

Wow! That is so powerful a way to put it. I have always been struck by how unfair the legal system can be. We can go so out of our way to protect the rights of people and not step on toes that sometimes the bad guys get away. That's the law, like it or not. True justice is just as you say - when we face that judgment at the end of our time on Earth and we have no one in our corner but Jesus. We have done nothing to deserve the mercy and grace he has bestowed upon us if we only ask for it.

Jonathan said...

Thanks, Donna. When I watch different shows like Law and Order or even reports about real life crime I get annoyed at the whole thing. So much about the system is broken. I often wish we could go back and tell the founders what we have ended up with now and see if they would change the way that they did some things.