29 January 2008

Not a Muslim Sentencing Trend

"Before reading this article, I did not connect of the American victims' rights movement with Islamic theology. Nevertheless, given that Judeo-Christian punishment philosophies tend to emphasize retribution (in the Old Testament) and redemption/rehabilitation (in the New Testament), concentrated concerns for crime victims' rights may have a distinctively Muslin resonance."

I must disagree with Professor Berman on this.

As I see it the driving force here isn't theological. It's a failed attempt to insert vengeance (or retributive justice, if you want to dress vengeance up in nice words) into a bureaucratic criminal justice system.

In other words, when Prosecutor Smith, Defense Attorney Jones, and Judge Greene have seen the same sort of cases time after time after time there will be a "normal" sentence. In many, if not most, criminal courtrooms this is furthered by legislatively imposed guidelines which are meant to punish like crimes in like manners, whether they occur in rural, conservative Pitcairn County or the massive, liberal City of Wardhaven. We have encouraged this in the name of equal justice for all.

Let's assume an embezzlement of $12,000 with sentencing guidelines that call for a year in jail. Acme, Inc., a large, multi-State corporation with a store in Windhaven City is mostly concerned about its bottom line and doesn't care all that much about the jail sentence. However, to the local florist in Pitcairn County, who was betrayed by the woman he trusted to manage his shop for the last 6 years and almost went out of business because of the embezzlement, a year in jail seems a pittance.

Eventually, the number of complaints from people who feel they've been wronged rises to a level that States end up with legislatures passing "Victims' Rights" laws. These generally guarantee the victim a right of "exhortation" not a right of determination (example: Virginia's Constitutional Victim Rights). They do not, at least not that I've ever seen, allow the relatives of a victim to choose alternative sentences. This is different than the Muslim system.

The Muslim system could be described as Lex Talionis minus. The punishment is pure "eye for an eye" stuff but allows the family of victims to reduce the punishment - at least in murder cases:
The Journey: 33. Nor take life - which Allah has made sacred - except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand the equal or to forgive): but let him nor exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law).

The Cow: 178. O ye who believe! the law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman. But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty.

179. In the Law of Equality there is (saving of) Life to you, o ye men of understanding; that ye may restrain yourselves.

The Table: 45. We ordained therein for them: "Life for life, eye for eye, nose or nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal." But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself. And if any fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (No better than) wrong-doers.
As far as I can tell, the Quran does not, in and of itself, sanction blood money. The interpretations above seem to equate remission with a charitable act. However, I have not done a translation myself (don't have time this morning) and I wonder at the "compensate him with handsome gratitude" language.

In any event, the system as laid out in the Quran is different from our system of victim interaction.

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