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Justice is one of those ideas that we all know from experience, especially experiences of injustice. What is justice? It’s easier to answer this one: what is injustice? Experiences of injustice occur in our lives daily, often more visibly and vocally than experiences of justice. However, justice is also one of those ideas that grow more complex, more elusive, the more you study it.


Ancient world map with China at the center

In ENG 110, we’re going to enact two mock trials in class. You’re going to write essays related to those experiences, so the more that you have thought about justice, the more thoughtful your essays will be.

Justice: Due You?

With this catchy title, I’m trying to make a pun that’s so weak I should explain. The word “due” is pronounced similarly to the word “do.” So someone hearing the phrase might think: “justice do you” in the sense of “Are you a just person?” as well as “justice due you” in the sense of “Do you deserve justice?”

Are you a just person?

Of course, we all want to believe that we are just, that we treat other people with justice. But do we? Do you? How do we influence each other? What we can know and judge? Will you put justice first when you’re a juror?

Do you deserve justice?


Ancient world map with the Mediterranean Sea at the center

Again, all of us are probably going to answer yes, we deserve justice. We feel we deserve it. But do we? Why? It’s a nice sentiment, but is it real or true?

Is justice one of those human things, true for everyone, everywhere, or all time? Or is it determined by each culture, differently?

Social justice

Why do some cultures have more stuff, more things, aka a “higher” (more expensive) standard of living than other cultures?

Because their people are smarter? Because their people are physically stronger, genetically superior? Because their people work harder? Because their values are better? Because they got lucky? Why?

Jared Diamond, a biologist who studies birds in New Guinea, was asked the Why question by Yali, one of the people of New Guinea who don’t have much stuff. Diamond’s answer to Yali is in a book Guns, Germs, and Steel, which was also a TV series, most of which is available on YouTube in three 6-part episodes.guns-germs_cover

Episode One: Out of Eden, Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

“Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

Diamond realized that Yali’s question penetrated the heart of a great mystery of human history — the roots of global inequality.

Why were Europeans the ones with all the cargo? Why had they taken over so much of the world, instead of the native people of New Guinea? How did Europeans end up with what Diamond terms the agents of conquest: guns, germs and steel? It was these agents of conquest that allowed 168 Spanish conquistadors to defeat an Imperial Inca army of 80,000 in 1532, and set a pattern of European conquest which would continue right up to the present day.

Diamond knew that the answer had little to do with ingenuity or individual skill. From his own experience in the jungles of New Guinea, he had observed that native hunter-gatherers were just as intelligent as people of European descent — and far more resourceful. Their lives were tough, and it seemed a terrible paradox of history that these extraordinary people should be the conquered, and not the conquerors.

To examine the reasons for European success, Jared realized he had to peel back the layers of history and begin his search at a time of equality — a time when all the peoples of the world lived in exactly the same way.

On the left above is a sino-centric (“sino” = Chinese) world map from thousands of years ago. On the right is a euro-centric world map from thousands of years ago. “Mediterranean” means “middle of the world”. At the bottom is a cartoon satirizing the concept of American Exceptionalism.

… the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nation states. … Although the term does not necessarily imply superiority, many neoconservative and other American conservative writers have promoted its use in that sense. To them, the U.S. is … exempt from historical forces that have affected other countries.

Studying Organizational Justice Cross-Culturally: Fundamental Challenges
by Jerald Greenberg

Cross-cultural research suggests that although concerns about justice may be universal, operationalization of justice standards is highly particularistic.

Dubai court sentences couple for sex on beach
By Jeffrey Fleishman
Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2008

A British couple whose drunken escapade led to sex on the beach, tabloid headlines and a clash between Western permissiveness and Islamic values were sentenced today by a Dubai court to three months in prison.

In other words, what is just depends on the time and the place.

  • Do you, personally, live in a time and place where justice is due you?
  • Can you think of a time and place where a person like you (gender, socio-economic status, religion, heritage) is not due justice?
  • Are there any people in our U.S. society who are in the wrong time and place for justice to be due them?


Sources of data and information

For topics like this, I always start with the Wikipedia. In school and on the job, you should use the Wikipedia as a launching pad, not a landing place. Use it to get an overview and some search terms and the links at the end of every article. I would highly recommend not quoting from it when you are writing essays for your other courses.

Wikipedia’s Justice

Wikipedia’s Justice Systems

Wikipedia’s Civil Law

Civil law (or civilian law) is a legal system originating in Europe, intellectualized within the framework of late Roman law, and whose most prevalent feature is that its core principles are codified into a referable system which serves as the primary source of law. This can be contrasted with common law systems whose intellectual framework comes from judge-made decisional law which gives precedential authority to prior court decisions on the principle that it is unfair to treat similar facts differently on different occasions (doctrine of judicial precedent).

Conceptually, civil law proceeds from abstractions, formulates general principles, and distinguishes substantive rules from procedural rules. It holds case law to be secondary and subordinate to statutory law.

Wikipedia’s Inquisitorial System

In the inquisitorial system, the judge, in essence, conducts public inquisition/investigation of crime. The judge can question witnesses, interrogates suspects, orders searches for other or further investigations, and finally declare the verdict and decide on the penalty. Their role is not to prosecute the accused, but to gather facts to reach the correct verdict, and as such their duty is to look for any and all evidence, incriminating or exculpatory. When declaring verdict, the judge must also release the reasoning explaining the verdict. Therefore, any perceived fault in the judge’s reasoning (due to logic, science or newly discovered evidence) is a ground for appeal by both prosecutor and defence. Also, in inquisitorial system, there is no such thing as plea. Even if the accused declare himself to be guilty of crime, the judge may declare the accused not guilty if the judge believe there is evidence to indicate that the accused is innocent.

In adversarial systems, judges focus on the issue of the law and procedure and act as a referee between the battle between the defence and the prosecutor. Jury decide on the matter of fact. Neither judge or jury can question witness or initiate inquiry. While jury will declare verdict, the reasoning behind the verdict and the discussion among jurors cannot be made public. Therefore, the defence could make appeal, technically speaking, only on the procedural ground, such as failure of prosecutor to disclose evidence or fault in evidence presented at the trial. On the other hand, prosecutor in adversarial system cannot appeal against not guilty verdict.

Chance Of Solving Hit-run 10% Few Cases Result In Convictions

If you are the victim of a hit-and-run driver in South Florida, chances are about one in 10 that anyone will ever be convicted of the crime.

Police probably will not find the driver, the driver probably will not turn himself in, and if he does, he may never be found guilty.

In Broward, Palm Beach and Dade counties last year, there were 24,457 reported accidents in which the driver left the scene or failed to leave information at an accident, state records show. There were only 2,408 hit-and- run convictions that year.

Nobody Knows How Many Americans The Police Kill Each Year

The [Michael Brown] incident has also drawn attention to a remarkable lack of knowledge about a seemingly basic fact: how often people are killed by the police.

Underreporting of Justifiable Homicides Committed by Police Officers in the United States, 1976–1998

Reliable estimates of the number of justifiable homicides committed by police officers in the United States do not exist.

Legal Systems of the World

Legal Systems of the World

Legal Systems of the World

U.S. Justice System - The Process

U.S. Justice System –
The Process

U.S. justice system: flow diagram

Crime Funnel

Crime Funnel

U.S. justice system: Crime funnel

U.S. incarceration rates 20th century

U.S. incarceration rates 20th century

U.S. Incarceration rates

US prison population - drugs

US prison population – drugs

U.S. Incarceration rates for drugs

Prisoner Population by Countries

Prisoner Population by Countries

World Incarceration rates

Ethnic Differences in Incarceration Rates

Ethnic Differences in Incarceration Rates

Ethnic differences in incarceration rates

Violent Crime Rates in the U.S.

Violent Crime Rates in the U.S.

Crime in the United States