Lady Justice

There is a Statue at the US Supreme Court which depicts Lady Justice. The Statue shows Lady Justice with a Sword in one hand, a balance scale in the other, and covering hers eyes is a blindfold.
Since the 15th century, Lady Justice has often been depicted wearing a blindfold. The blindfold represents objectivity, in that justice should be handed out objectively, without fear or favor, regardless of identity, money, power, or weakness. In other words, regardless of the individual, everyone should be treated the same.

This brings up an interesting question, do we really want justice to be blind to the individual. For instance, say a person goes to a grocery store and steals food. Should we take into account that the thief has recently lost their job, has three children to feed, and has no money to pay for the food. Do we differentiate that the thief stole baby food rather than three steaks because he or she was tired of eating pasta?

I once had a client who failed to pay a speeding ticket and his license was suspended. He was good looking, young, and an honor student in a premed program at the local university. Unfortunately, this young man decided to ignore his suspended license and drove. When he made a prohibited turn at a red light, a police officer attempted to pull him over. Rather than stop, the young man tried to outrun the officer. After driving a couple of miles with the police officer in pursuit, the young man ultimately pulled over, was arrested, and taken to jail.

When I interviewed the defendant, I asked him why he had failed to pull over. He responded that he knew he would taken to jail, that he was gay, and he was scared to death of what might happen to him when jailed. He was obviously guilty of the crime. When it was time for sentencing, the probation department which interviewed the young man, recommended that he be sentenced to probation, perform several days of community service, and pay stiff fines. The judge, on the other hand, even after being informed of why the young man had fled, sentenced him to 9 months in jail, effectively ending his college career and putting my client in a situation that terrified him. And the judge had the discretion to do what he did.

The question then is what kind of Lady Justice do we want. Do we want that blindfold to be so tight that we don’t consider the individual or the reasons for the conduct or do we want our judges to peak beyond the blindfold and consider the circumstances that drove someone to break the law? It is a complex question.