Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A sign of the times

jail n bail.pngMissouri is attaching little price tags to its pre-sentence reports so that judges realize that executing sentences is not free. Defense attorneys applaud this, and prosecutors decry it. Money quote: “‘No one can put a price tag on being a victim,’ said Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association.”

Oh, Scott, did they not teach torts at your law school? It turns out that one of the main reasons we have law, Scott, is to put a dollar value on the harm visited upon victims of intentional and accidental wrongs. True, money is never going to bring back the dead, but it’s what we do so that civilization doesn’t crumble in a chaotic cycle of retribution and vigilanteism. It’s been going on for hundreds of years, and it works pretty well.

There’s also a lot of good reasons why we have judges—and not victims—craft sentences. One of those is that judges are supposed to act dispassionately and create a sentence that will maximize the public good—not only vindicate the victim. Judges can do that better if they are aware of the impact their choices have on the public fisc. Plus, if this were implemented at the federal level, it would give probation officers something to put into a pre-sentence investigation report that doesn’t entail having them make legal arguments.

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