Toward more humane courts

Published 6:59 pm Monday, April 19, 2010

From the beginning of the nation, the American court system has placed a high level of importance on the protection of the rights of criminal defendants. Even the nation’s most foundational document — the United States Constitution — recognizes the thin line between an unchecked police force or court system and outright tyranny.

Considering the connection America’s judicial system has to its jurisprudential forebears in pre-colonial England — along with the American colonists’ strong connection to the ideal of freedom — the focus was understandable. The ideals may have found their best expression, however, in something called “Blackaby’s Formulation,” the principle that it is “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer,” as expressed in his “Commentaries on the Laws of England,” which was published in the 1760s.

That ideal — if not the source — is a familiar one to those who have had good high school government teachers. It is a bedrock principle of the American justice system’s guarantee of the right to a fair trial.


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With such a strong focus on protecting the rights of the accused, however, it would be easy to overlook the rights of the victim. And that’s where the people in Suffolk’s Victim/Witness Services office come into the picture. While others focus on providing fair trials that aspire to justice without infringing upon the rights of the accused, the Victim/Witness office aims at helping those who are most directly affected by crime understand the judicial process and their role in it. Folks in that department also help crime victims find resources to help them cope with the emotional effects of their experiences.

It’s important work that helps victims begin to heal after their trauma. And while there are important philosophical arguments in favor of protecting the rights of the accused, the arguments in favor of having an advocate for victims are often tangible and obvious.

Suffolk citizens should be proud of the people who work in the Victim/Witness Services office. The courts are more humane for their efforts.