After my sister-in-law’s house was set on fire and burned down, killing my baby nephew, our family has been on long journey through the justice system. Before this event, I had never experienced any close encounters with our justice system. I led a very sheltered childhood, have always followed the rules, and my Asian genetics never even allowed me to have any funny drunken stories in university. My husband and I have been law-abiding citizens, other than the odd traffic ticket, and rarely visited a police station. My view of the justice system, as I’m sure is true for many others, was made up of ideas I gleaned from TV shows and movies, because I had no firsthand experience with it.
That’s all changed now.
When all of this happened last summer, our family was told that things in real life don’t happen like they do on TV. That the process is much slower. Boy, was that an understatement. Over a year since Hunter’s death, and it has been a series of adjournments and postponements of court dates. Real life is very different from TV. Because on TV they actually get stuff done. Things get resolved. Bad guys get caught. Victims have closure in knowing that justice was served. Now I don’t even know what justice really means.
The administration of the law or authority in maintaining this.
My family has not experienced justice through this ordeal. I’m certain that we are not the only victims in the system who struggle with this. Not only are we working through the grief and trauma of what happened, we have been faced with a system that ultimately has no regard for victims, and does not dispense justice for victims.
These are the hard realizations I’ve made about our justice system.
1. Victims have no advocate.
When a crime is committed and someone is accused, that accused individual has a defense lawyer. The defense lawyer is there to – wait for it – DEFEND the accused. They are there to ensure the accused is treated fairly and reasonably – justice, right? And what about the victim? The victim has no equivalent to a defense lawyer. The crown prosecutor, you say? The crown prosecutor is not there to defend or advocate for the victim. They present the case against the accused, but they are not there to ensure the victim is treated fairly and reasonably. In fact, nobody is there to ensure the victim is treated fairly and reasonably. I find it infuriating that someone accused of a crime had an advocate, and yet the victims of a crime have none.
2. Victims have no real voice.
Our family members were given information about submitting Victim Impact Statements that could be presented in court to impact sentencing. We all spent hours reliving the traumatic events, trying to write these statements to the best of our abilities. Because we thought they would matter. We thought our voices could have an impact on the outcome.
“The victim impact statement gives victims of crime a voice in the criminal justice system. It allows victims to take part in the sentencing of the offender by explaining to the Court and the offender, in their own words, how the crime has affected them.”
That sounds good, right? That’s why we spent so much time crafting our statements. Then – a bunch of charges were dropped. “Likelihood of conviction” is one of those catch phrases thrown around because, once again, a crown prosecutor isn’t there to ensure victims are treated fairly. They are looking for a high likelihood of conviction. If that isn’t there, charges get dropped, changed, etc. We were told our original statements were not relevant to the new charges. We revised them. And even still, our statements were vetted for information deemed irrelevant or inappropriate to the case. My revised statement is full of “black boxes” that cover up my “inappropriate” sections. Because my full experience cannot be shared. Because it isn’t relevant. It doesn’t matter. And in the end, none of our statements matter because a sentence has already been decided, and our statements have no effect on it. So really, the victim impact statement is a pretense of giving victims a voice. Is that fair and reasonable?
3. There is no consideration for what victims are going through.
So, something traumatic and tragic happens to you, and you are forced to relive it over and over again every time you’re told something is going to happen in court. You can’t sleep, your anxiety takes over for the days preceding the date/time given to you, you start having panic attacks, and your body rebels because of the stress you’re under. You get to the courthouse and are told the hearing has been postponed. The relief you hoped to achieve by getting it over with will have to wait. Again. And again. And again. “Things take time.” “The judge needs to review everything.” And the most recent one: “The judge is ill.”
Okay, I’m going to get very ranty here. Warning. (I’ve been watching The Good Place so I’m going to adopt the conventions of the Good Place in order to avoid using an extreme amount of expletives.) At any possible job I can imagine, if someone is sick and needs to take a sick day, they call IN THE MORNING. I have worked at a lot of different places, and I believe this is the norm. You call in sick IN THE MORNING, so that whatever appointments or meetings or whatever can be cancelled, or someone covers for you. Am I wrong in thinking that’s typical?
Apparently in the justice system, that’s not what happens. Apparently, victims are told a date/time at 1:30pm in the afternoon, work themselves up over Thanksgiving long weekend and arrive at the courthouse half an hour early to ensure they’re not late. And only then are they told that the judge is ill and that the hearing they have been dreading and wishing to be over will be postponed another forking time. Because apparently no other judge can cover for something. Apparently the judge has no administrative staff to inform all parties involved BEFORE THEY PAY FORKING $24 TO PARK BY THE COURTHOUSE that the hearing is cancelled. If I did that at my job, I’m pretty sure my clients and families would be angry with me, and complain to my supervisor. Even if I’m deathly ill and have to cancel something at work, I GIVE AS MUCH NOTICE AS POSSIBLE SO PEOPLE AREN’T WAITING ON ME. Common courtesy, I would think. I also apologize profusely.
Because I think that’s fair and reasonable. Just, you might say. But things are different in the justice system. Conventional fair and reasonable expectations don’t fly.
I’m frustrated, can you tell? I never thought I’d be so disillusioned and disappointed with our justice system. I thought that even though it was complex and hard to understand, justice would prevail. I may not be a lawyer, but I can understand that justice, fair and reasonable treatment, has not been applied here. And there’s nothing I can do but rant about it and try to figure out how to move forward, despite it.