Due Process

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The defense attorneys for James Holmes claimed today that they could not ethically deliver a plea for their client who murdered 12 people, and attempted to murder 70 more at an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre.  On their behalf, Judge William Sylvester entered a plea of not guilty.

In the public’s eye there is no question of James Holmes' guilt.  I cannot think of a person who, even sitting on the jury under the thumb of judicial regulation, would not see this as an open-and-shut case.  The fact is James Holmes’ guilt is not even up for debate.  There are no grey areas in the case; the prosecution isn’t burdened with proving that James Holmes snuck into a movie theatre and killed members of the audience; there are no other suspects.  Everyone knows that James Holmes murdered those people.  The judge.  The jury.  The defense. The prosecution.  Everyone is quite apprised of the truth.

The case will instead (most likely) examine James Holmes’ mental capacity to know right from wrong.  But, I will not go into that.  We are living in a nation of high stress, fear, and mental illness that slips through the cracks.  This is not to condone wickedness, but as a nation we must examine the nature and roots of our wayward.  However, for the sake of this article, the motivation of James Holmes – be it delusion, pre-meditation, hate, stupidity, or blatant and conscious disregard for human life – is irrelevant.

We cannot simply prosecute the wayward without due process.  Our anger says otherwise.  We look at the months that have passed, the lack of decision on the side of the legal defense, and we want blood.  We want to hurry it all up.  But, we do not share the burden of judges and lawyers.  It is easy for us to demand a hanging, because we have the luxury of speaking out on our knee-jerk reactions.  We can preach our rage with no ill-effects because the people around us share our point-of-view.

The people that make up our judicial system, while made of the same flesh and bones that we are made, have a larger duty at stake: fairness.  The due process of law must be carried out by their hands, by the book, regardless of the facts before their eyes.  Is James Holmes guilty?  Did this man kill people?  Yes, he did.  He is guilty.  But, our legal system is based on prosecution through rational fairness.  A dance is required.  The defense must defend to the best of their ability while the prosecution must do what is best for the people.  But, what is best for the people – what is best for us?  Is it blood?  Sensitivity for the mentally ill?  Sympathy for victims and their families?  I would not want to be in the position to decide, for everyone’s comfort stems from different motivation.

We are left only with systems and procedure.  If the legal system does not act out due process in all situations – if even through practiced and memorized footsteps – then a new precedent would be set and fairness would crumble.  This cannot be allowed to happen due to the actions of the ill-minded and those lacking conscience.    

I do not envy the defense attorneys, the prosecution, the judge, or the jury.  Their burden to hold balanced the treatment of due process hangs more in cases like this than in cases where the pursuit of guilt and innocence is an exercise in striking and parrying.  It is a situation that must be endured by our rage and sadness, lest we all become hangmen.


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