Justice and Education

When meting out justice, the courts say that ignorance is no excuse; not knowing the law and courtroom/police procedure does not protect one from the punishments resulting from breaking the law.  If this is true, then justice seems to require a populace educated in law, police work and courtroom protocol.  Yet, many remain uninformed and ignorant.  Those who actually understand the basic requirements to being a fully enfranchised citizen belong to a specific and exclusive class (i.e. lawyers, judges and jurists in general).  Something is awry.

 

It is the responsibility of lawmakers, public servants, and perhaps even journalists to actively educate the populace on the law.  Rather, that responsibility seems to fall more and more on the shoulders of fictional crime drama like Law & Order, which do not paint an accurate picture of the law, police or courtroom procedures.  Citizens should not live under a cloud of uncertainty (as exists with various copyright and digital rights laws); they should have the right, ability and (importantly) the know-how to challenge laws and defend themselves without fear of bankruptcy resulting from high lawyer or court fees.

 

Equal justice for all should mean equal access to that justice.  But if only a certain professional class (e.g., lawyers) seem to know and can influence where goalposts are, then justice is unobtainable for many and the courtroom a boogeyman.   More power is centralized into the hands of the police and judicial system, placing the vast majority of the population at a severe disadvantage.

 

The argument is not against lawyers, their fees, or their practice.  It is not against having a class of specialists regarding the law.  The argument is that countless numbers are needlessly suffering under the law and the punishments thereof because they did not know they were even breaking the law or to what degree (e.g., a small amount of drugs might not be an offense at all, but it is only a few grams more to “intent to sell”).

 

Justice is more than doling out punishment for a violation of the law; it needs to include taking steps to ensure that future violations are prevented.  Education of the law, including police and courtroom procedures, is a necessary step.  A justice system that does not accept ignorance as a mitigating factor yet does not actively inform its citizenry (while allowing for the justice system to be needlessly complicated) is not a very just system.

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