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Texas : Features : Columns : Letters From North America :

Justice and Mercy

by Peary Perry
Peary Perry

Someone once told me that if they ever have any reason to appear before any court of judge, they didnít want justice, they wanted mercy.

After hearing of several instances this week, I am certain I tend to agree with him and his viewpoint. Try this one on for size.

We all have seen situations where men have been locked up in prisons for any number of years only to be determined to be innocent after DNA testing had been completed. Obviously DNA didnít exist twenty five years ago so it was certainly possible for some poor schmuck to be tried and convicted and sent off to the pokey for many years to come. Now, he gets his case reviewed and the evidence shows that he could not have been involved in the crime and he gets set free.

But wait, what about those lost years away from his family, job and friends? Well, in some states the innocent guy gets some form of restitution and in other states he has to sue for it. In the majority of either cases the chances of his getting any real money is fairly slim. The states tend to appeal any ruling against them and by the time the guy does collect, more years will have passed and his attorney will probably get more than heíll ever see. Looks to me like we should have some sort of uniformity to this matter. Iím not saying we should give each and every guy a million bucks, but letís be reasonable. If the innocent guy was capable of making say, $35,000 a year and he got locked up by mistake for twenty years, then why shouldnít he be entitled to a lump sum of $700,000 for his pain and suffering?

At the same time, why have any appeal for the state? This should be a slam dunk. He is the wrong guy, the state owes the money, and he gets the money within six months of his release, simple as that. No attorneys needed, he gets the money to help him get on with his new life. Why make the guys suffer any more because of damage done to him for whatever reason. Juries make mistakes, the police make mistakes, and the courts make mistakes. We canít undo what has been done to some guy who has sat out the last fifteen or twenty years in some tiny cell with a bunkmate named Bruno. We are the state and if we made a mistake, then the least we can do is try and correct what we did as quickly as we can.

My second bone of contention this week concerns what happens to drivers who run red lights or stop signs and kill someone. In our state, the practice is not to test the person committing the traffic violation to any drug or alcohol test if they donít seem to be impaired, even though they might have ran a light or stop sign and killed anyone. It was reported to me that we do test (by autopsy) the victims. This makes no sense to me at all. Apparently all anyone can be charged with if they run a light or stop sign and kill someone is a traffic violation; no criminal charges can be made against them.

Sure it was an accident, but letís get real, a lot of people donít show any signs of drug or alcohol abuse so why not test any and all drivers involved in a fatal accident? And while weíre at it, why not have some type of additional charge that could be brought against the driver who committed the accident in the first place? I realize anyone could have an accident, but killing one or more people is serious and there should be consequences for our actions. Just allowing the person to get off with a citation and pay a fine seems to me an awfully cheap price to pay for someoneís father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter.

It appears to me that our various state legislatures should be looking into the elimination of issues such as these and stop clowning around for the media or passing inane resolutions or laws without any merit. But then thatís just my opinion.

© Peary Perry
Letters From North America

November 29, 2007 column
Syndicated weekly in 80 newspapers
Comments go to pperry@austin.rr.com


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