Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Justice

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.
Image courtesy
Pearson Scott Foresman via
Wikimedia Commons

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.)


  1. I love the Dosadi Experiment, I go back and read it every few years :) Great book.

    If you want true justice then I think anyone close to the crime cannot be objective enough to give it, if you want personal justice then those involved are the only ones who can decide.

    I like the way Alfred the Great changed Saxon law - at the time blood fued was perfectly acceptable, so if someone killed one of your relatives you could go off and kill them. He made one simple change; you have to wait 7 days before you can exact revenge. It made people have to think and consider rather than acting on impulse. I don't believe in society killing as retribution, but I think Alfred was heading in the right direction.

  2. The Dosadi Experiment sounds interesting, I'll have to check it out.

    Death for every crime commited seems a bit harsh. What if it was just a mistake. And is discovering remorse for a crime enough to lessen the sentece? I think is should. And that wiping the personality thing... it is the death penalty with less guilt for the people taking away the personality I think.

    LittleCely from LittleCely's Blog

  3. I think wiping someone's personality and then expecting them to live on is too cruel - I'm sure many would rather be executed; it's essentially the same thing, it's still killing who they are.

  4. The personality wipe was also done well in the short lived "Earth 2." It almost seems crueler.