When I think of heartache in a courtroom, it’s a victim’s family I picture. I think back to the quiet anguish I’ve seen on faces in court. If you’re torn apart at your core by some terrible act, you must sit in court and face the litany of legalese that accompanies any case.
Such lawyer talk must seem like such foolish gibberish for family members with the hurt of murder or a child molestation in their hearts. Justice is not swift and rarely ever complete. It is a necessary word, justice. But its application is almost always flawed in some form. And when we look to a court to right some personal wrong, the system’s shortcomings can be really hard to take.
Meanwhile, we see the pressure on our courts grow. The bad economy has led to more and more crime. And there isn’t a week that goes by without something notably mean in the crime reports.
Each arrest in our newspaper represents the filing of a new case. And with those filings come new victims. If someone goes on a burglary spree, one arrest can include 10 victims. And in a violent act, it’s not just the one with the blood and bruises who’s victimized. No, anyone who loves that person — their mom, dad, spouse or kids — is also a real victim. In some ways, that victimhood can hurt even more.
If you think about it, most every aspect of court relates to the accused. I understand why. Because I believe a nation that defends “freedom” must take freedoms and the stripping away of freedoms seriously — whether criminally minded individuals choose to behave or not. Still, I recognize a paradox that can make us all sick at times: In court, the worst of our society are often recipients of something that makes our society special — our commitment to constitutional rights.
It would be much simpler to do as Saudi Arabia does, to set up a “chop-chop square” and cut off hands and heads. There is a simplicity in such talk that appeals to many people. Of course, that simplicity would be suddenly complicated the moment the cops acted suspiciously toward you or your loved one for anything. Think of that moment the cuffs clink on your own wrists. Then consider the blade, the lack of due process.
Nevertheless, I don’t see how anyone can deny that the courts are generally set up to deal with defendants, not victims. The state must weigh a defendant’s guilt or innocence, then consider whether to strip him of his freedom.
But the victims are the ones with real hurt on the line. And victims should not be left to survive the cumbersome machinations of the justice system on their own.
I’m glad to know that they don’t have to.
The Victims Witness Assistance Program, which is featured on the front page this week, represents the victims’ side of things in the court process. It’s a positive local program that many probably aren’t aware of. Two women, Sue Carithers and Kristie Cross, work hard to keep victims across five counties, including Madison County, informed of what’s going on in their cases. And if victims are confused or troubled about what’s happening or not happening in the justice system, they have someone to contact. The program also offers support for victims in court. And hearing Carithers and Cross describe a couple of the cases they sat through, I recognized the value of the service. Think about it, if you are really hurt or someone you love is, don’t you want the courts to have someone focused on your well being?
Like everything else these days, the victims assistance program is short-staffed. There are thousands of victims in the five-county circuit. And it’s difficult for two people to serve that many folks. But the program does offer a way for civic-minded citizens to help out and to sit in court with a victim, helping them not feel they are facing things alone. Those interested in volunteering will also help the program maintain its grant funding.
Sad stories abound these days, particularly in our courts. But the fact that we have a program in place to help our community’s victims, well, I view that as a bright spot, a program worth keeping and promoting.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.