If someone commits a crime against you, what would it take for you to believe that justice had been done? Most people would agree that it depends upon the crime, but in some fictional societies, the punishment for all crimes is the same. We see this in Star Trek TNG, in the episode “Justice.” In this episode, Wesley accidentally sets foot in an area that is off limits. The punishment for that or any other transgression is the same: death. The belief is that with such a harsh punishment for all crimes in place, people will obey the law. This is a more extreme example of the kind of no-tolerance policies we see in many schools today. Could this be considered justice, or is utilizing human judgment better, even though human judgments can admittedly be flawed?
In the British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf, we see another episode entitled “Justice.” In this scenario, the crew encounters the justice zone. Within the zone, any crime you attempt to commit is instead committed against you. For example, if you try to commit arson, a part of your body, or the clothing covering it, will go up in flames. This is the old eye-for-an-eye view of justice.
Pearson Scott Foresman via
Babylon 5 explores an alternative to the death penalty, though it isn’t much different in reality. Criminals can have their personalities wiped, and a new personality is programmed in, and this new person is expected to repay society through doing public service. Though the physical body lives on, everything that made them who they were is gone. Is this truly a more humane alternative to the death penalty? Is it ultimately any different than the death penalty? Will people feel that justice has been served?
In the Star Trek Voyager episode “Repentance” we meet a convicted murderer who has been sentenced to death for his crimes. He initially feels no remorse for what he’s done. After being injured, he’s injected with Borg nanoprobes. Those nanoprobes end up repairing an abnormality in his brain, which allows him to finally feel remorse for what he’s done. The Voyager crew contend that he is essentially a different person than he was when he committed the crime, and that he is no longer a danger to society. However, the justice system with jurisdiction in this case leaves the punishment in the hands of the victim’s family. The family initially refuses to examine the evidence. They eventually look at it, but decide to go forward with the execution. This raises many questions. Could victims or their families possibly be objective enough to make a choice like this? Does this kind of system really allow for justice to be done? If the family make is the choice for someone to die, does this also make them killers, or is this choice justified by the heinous nature of the crime committed against them?
What is justice? Can any legal system truly bring about justice, or is the term too subjective? Or is life simply full of too many variables for any justice system to be foolproof?
(I don’t have enough space to discuss it here, but the novel The Dosadi Experiment by Frank Herbert presents Gowachin law, which is one of the more interesting legal systems I’ve ever read about. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it.)