There’s a report today that a spoiled teen who killed four people, wounded and permanently damaged others in a horrible DUI crash is to receive therapy rather than a jail term. Rod Dreher comments on it here and links to a local news story here.
What’s the problem here? The judge agreed with the defense attorney that the killer who bragged about his drink and drug taking after the accident, had been spoiled by his rich parents and not taught to take responsibility for his actions. Therefore he sentenced him to ten years probation in a therapeutic setting.
The underlying problem is a colossal misunderstanding of the whole concept of justice. The basic reason for a justice system is retribution. Retribution is different from revenge. Revenge is an angry and endless cycle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Retribution, on the other hand, is society’s way of ameliorating the concept of revenge with a fair and just attribution of certain consequences for certain actions. “If you break the speed limit you pay this fine.”
There is meant to be an objective, unsentimental sentence given for a particular action. Its clear. You did ‘Y’ you get ‘X’.
Once we start to become utilitarian about the justice system there is no more justice. The two utilitarian reasons for sentencing are to protect the public and to rehabilitate the offender. Both of these reasons lead to huge injustice. If the reason for the sentence is to protect the public, then a person who is a danger to the public could be locked away forever–even if he hadn’t done anything wrong. A suspected terrorist, for example, or someone who is deemed a subversive element to the powers that be, could be locked up without trial and without a great offense because the motivation for sentencing is protection of the public.
Likewise, if the reason for sentencing is rehabilitation for the offender, great injustice comes about. The Ethan Couch case is a good example. If rehabilitation is the motivation, then the person could be locked up forever until he is “rehabilitated” or “re-educated”. Ideological regimes use this argumentation all the time for their gulags, mental hospitals and “re-education centers.” Not only does the rehabilitation motivation open up to frightening injustice for the offender, but the people wounded by his action are grieved because a killer has been allowed to receive therapy rather than serve time.
That these motivations for sentencing are more and more prevalent in our society is a cause for great alarm. What happens when innocent civilians who take a dissenting position from the state are arrested? In our present situation a judge may very well sentence them to be “re-educated” and to do that they may need to be incarcerated indefinitely. If they are deemed to be a danger to the public they could be locked away for the same reason.
Chesterton said every argument is a theological argument, and this is no exception. Why do judges consider rehabilitation and protection of the public to be the motivation for punishment? Because the idea of an absolute definition of right and wrong has been eroded. If there is no such thing as objective morality then there is no such thing as objective justice.
Why is there no such thing as objective morality? You can’t have objective morality without an objective law, and you can’t have an objective law unless it comes from outside individual conscience or particular societies. An objective law, therefore needs to transcend particular individuals and particular societies. You can’t have an objective law unless there is an objective lawgiver.
That’s why atheist and a society which is atheist by default can have no other form of justice than that of rehabilitation or protection.
That’s why without an objective law the whole realm of law and order breaks down into chaos.
All law becomes arbitrary, and when that happens the only way to maintain law an order is through force. The strongest person or strongest element in society simply says, “This is the law. You’re right that it is arbitrary. We just made it up as we see fit. You had better obey or you will be locked up.”
Thus atheism leads to totalitarianism. It follows as night follows day.