Judicial decisions preserve justice

Published 3:55 pm Wednesday, April 5, 2023

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An editorial opinion of The Greenville Advocate

The popular television series “Law and Order: Trial By Jury ” begins with a quote, “In the criminal justice system, all defendants are innocent until proven guilty, either by confession, plea bargain, or trial by jury. This is one of those trials.”

In recent months, local communities have witnessed several “of those trials.” Citizens across Butler County waited almost five years to learn whether a jury would convict four McKenzie residents for the 2018 murder of Joshua James “JJ” Mount.

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And, while they waited, parties for and against the family members’ convictions argued over the outcome, even after guilt was proclaimed and they were sentenced.

Crenshaw County residents waited more than two years to learn the verdict for “one of those trials” too, as a father and husband was tried on charges of rape and sexual abuse of his daughter’s friend, which allegedly occurred in 1999.

News of the accused man’s acquittal elicited outrage on both sides, with cries of “victory” from those affirming his innocence and echoes of “injustice” from others proclaiming his quilt.

Lowndes County has not been spared from “those trials,”  either. Nearly four years after the slaying of Sheriff “Big John” Williams in 2019, the county still waits to learn whether William Chase Johnson will serve time for the crime.

Many people say there are two sides to every story. There are at least two perspectives to every story and augment. But trials bring together judges, attorneys, witnesses, and juries to judge the facts, presumably in a matter that weighed evidence on an objective scale to reach a verdict based not on opinion, emotion, or relationships, but on belief beyond a shadow of doubt.

Community emotions run high when it comes to trials involving victims and accused persons living within the area, especially in small communities such as ours.

Citizens are tempted to take matters into their own hands. Sometimes, it happens that communities administer “justice” when members feel the court system has failed to do so.

But America is a democracy, founded on principles of equality and justice.

Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with saying, “Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both sides.” William Penn is also credited with the mantra, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.”

American justice demands a fair trial based on facts and evidence, often judged by a jury of peers who hear testimony and review evidence presented in court. Justice is not for one man or woman to determine as perhaps is the case in other countries.

Justice does not always seem fair, as often both the prosecution and defense walk away frustrated by the outcome.

“Justice is merely incidental to law and order,” said J. Edgar Hoover, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

Court officials administer justice based on the laws of the land. Citizens can and should avail themselves of the right to elect persons who will represent their interests and abide by the law. They can also speak out regarding injustice and work to effect change where needed by being brave enough to work together to make it happen.