My area of study has revolved around the legal and criminal justice systems. I find them to be horribly complex and terribly interesting. Oftentimes, things within the systems are not as simple as people perceive them to be, really comprised of numerous layers that often distort people’s understanding.
For those of you that have been asleep or under a rock, Jerry Sandusky was just found guilty of 45 out of 48 remaining charges, after the judge dismissed 3 from the original count.
The reactions have been varied, but they are anything but silent.
The majority of folks seem to rejoicing – feeling that the system has finally been restored, after the Casey Anthony debacle, justice has finally been served. Other folks, myself included, seem to be almost resigned. There’s a feeling of thankfulness or some positive feeling about the fact that some sort of healing process can begin, but what about all the damage that’s already been caused?
Society rejoices about a monster being put behind bars, but why are we focusing attention on the root of the cause? What about the victims and their families? What about the lives that have been ruined?
I didn’t follow the Sandusky trial. I didn’t follow the Casey Anthony trial.
I don’t watch the things as they unfold. I evaluate them once the process has ended, too many moving pieces to study at once. Each deserves its own careful consideration. It may be that I’m not at a point of my academic study where I can do that or it may never matter, this just may be personal preference.
These trials solidify my belief that I have no business as a lawyer. I can’t fathom trying to defend someone like Sandusky, much less in the smarmy way that his attorney seemed to have gone about it.
Our legal system is supposed to operate as an adversarial system. Public perception seems to dictate that the prosecution and defense counsels are charged with the same responsibility – proving that their side is correct. Each side is expected to advance their position to the best of their ability, but their responsibilities are different. Prosecutors work to “seek the truth and attain justice outcomes.” Their responsibility is to put the best case, ideally an impenetrable one, forward to withstand an assault from the defense counsel, who are expected to advocate on behalf of their client, regardless of if the party is guilty or not. The defense doesn’t need to put together a case, so much as it needs to poke holes in the prosecution. The system is generally perceived as a failure when the prosecution doesn’t tie up all the loose ends or leaves room for doubt. That’s why our legal standard is beyond a reasonable doubt.
This is another notorious case seemingly absent of guilt. What’s interesting are the circumstances that almost seem to have created a series of safeguards to ensure a guilty verdict. Namely, the fact that more accusers were surfacing. While timing and personal choice are clearly at play here, all eyes appear to be on Matt Sandusky, adopted son of Jerry and Dottie. Matt went from advocating for his father to coming forward as another victim of abuse. You can’t try someone again for the same crime if you don’t like the outcome, but you can try another case with new players.
This whole thing becomes more complicated when you consider the Court of Public Opinion. A system of its own that has crucified Penn State’s involvement, or lack thereof. People are quick to lump the university as a whole, others choose to focus on the individuals that appear to have protected Sandusky. Again, we give attention to those who have done something wrong, rather than the people left behind. It’s easy to think that a verdict means everything is left in the past, but that’s not the case for a prominent university that will spend its time under a microscope as it polishes its tarnished image. The university as a whole doesn’t deserve to be punished for the actions of the few.
Sometimes the Court of Public Opinion can be more damning then the traditional court, especially if the verdicts aren’t in sync. With a case like this, the criminal justice system certainly overrules all.
Sandusky faces a minimum sentence of 60 years for the convicted charges and a maximum sentence of 442 years. Regardless of what he receives, he is essentially guaranteed a life sentence in prison. It is once he’s permanently in custody that our official criminal justice system gives way to an internal system.
It’s been a long-running joke that my area of study delves into prison. I’ll read whatever books I can, I’ll watch whatever documentaries I can and I’ll visit whatever prisons I can. This complexity within the system – the society itself, the hierarchy, the system of rules – has slowly developed into the focus of what I look at.
Correctional facilities may vary, whether they’re long or short-term institutions or their level of classification, but something’s remain constant. There may be an official hierarchy from the warden to the prisoners, but there’s a hierarchy that exists within the prisoners themselves. Much like other arenas of life, seniority becomes key. It’s no secret that there’s a great deal of crime that takes place within a correctional facility – these facilities are typically credited with breeding better criminals. Even if you walk in an innocent person, you will walk out a criminal at the end of your sentence. Adaptation becomes the only way to survive.
It’s not a formal sentence, but Sandusky received a death sentence tonight.
Sure, he’ll likely be put in protective custody as a well-known figure. Please say that like that has saved people with life sentences before. Crimes against children and the elderly are particularly disgraceful in prison. Within the prisoner court, there are no sentencing guidelines for these crimes. There is one sentence.
This is only the beginning of another conversation in, what has been, an apparently never-ending process. Snarky comments have begun, indicating that prison isn’t a punishment for Sandusky, he’ll end up enjoying his time there. Others have started the discussion on awareness of sexual abuse. Some lead the charge in making the conversation about equality within crimes, debating what the outcome may have been if Sandusky’s victims are females. Others wait, knowing that this isn’t over. There are civil cases to be heard. There is a rebuilding process to complete. There is healing to take place.
Tonight the focus shouldn’t be on Sandusky. It shouldn’t be about his wife, who is facing her own public scrutiny. It shouldn’t be about Joe Paterno, on the five-month anniversary of his death. It shouldn’t be about the Pennsylvania Attorney General. It shouldn’t be about Amendola. It shouldn’t be about the ousted Penn State administrators. It shouldn’t be about Penn State.
It should be about the victims.
Let this be about the people who are able and willing to come forward. Let this be about the people who may be out there that haven’t been identified. Let this serve as a larger message.
Let their voices be heard.