It was the fall of 1968. My high school debate partner and I were given our first look at a national resolution on which teams would face off during the coming school year. It read, “Resolved: That Congress should establish uniform regulations to control criminal investigation procedures.”
Recent Supreme Court decisions were changing the ways arrests were being made. Criminals now had to be read specific rights. Cases brought to light were the Miranda and Escobedo decisions.
The Escobedo v. Illinois case established that criminal suspects have a right to counsel, not just at trial but during police interrogations. In the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona decision, the Supreme Court held that a defendant cannot be questioned by police until the defendant is made aware of the right to remain silent, the right to consult with an attorney and have the attorney present during questioning, and the right to have an attorney appointed if the defendant cannot afford one.
It was this season of debate that tweaked my interest in becoming a lawyer. Something I would not pursue – although it was what I told my classmates at graduation time. I felt, as many did, that justice was turning a blind eye to punishing criminal activity when justified. Yes, rights are important. But crimes should be punished. Conversely, people should not be punished for exercising freedoms that clearly do no wrongful intent.
Two cases in the news of the past couple of weeks provided examples of what seems like injustice. First, was the decision to release comedian Bill Cosby. There was nothing funny about his purported offenses.
In April of 2018, Mr. Cosby was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting one of many women who accused him of similar misconduct. He was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison. Cosby was sent to serve his term at a maximum security facility in Pennsylvania.
On June 30th, Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned his sexual assault conviction and the man went free. Many were shocked. #Me too. According to the LA Times, “Legal experts say the court’s decision, which didn't involve the facts of the assault but rather actions by the prosecutor, was based on an uncommon technicality and probably won’t have wider legal implications.”
Get that? He was released on an “uncommon technicality.” Keep in mind, some sixty women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct. Just bury justice in the ground somewhere, okay? Now he plans to return to the stage.
Case number two involves a sweet woman named Baronelle Stutzman. A florist in Washington State. Loved by her customers.
As the owner of the flower shop, Ms. Stutzman served everyone who came to her store. That included a longtime customer and friend Rob Ingersoll, a “gay” man she had graciously served for nearly ten years, designing many beautiful and creative floral art creations.
When Rob asked her to design arrangements to celebrate his same-sex wedding, Barronelle drew the line. She knew that her Christian beliefs about marriage would require her to say no. And she told him so.
Alliance Defending Freedom, who defended Ms. Stutzman, explains, “So, she walked Rob to a quiet part of her shop, took his hand in her own, and gently told him why she couldn’t do what he asked. Barronelle then referred Rob to three local floral artists who she knew would do a good job. They chatted a few more minutes about Rob’s wedding plans, hugged, and then Rob left the shop.”
However, Rob’s partner posted about the rejection on social media. News coverage of that post was seen by the Washington Attorney General, which prompted a lawsuit against Barronelle. The “offended party” not only went after Barronelle’s business, but also sued her in a personal capacity. Later, the ACLU also joined in, filing a separate lawsuit on behalf of Rob and his partner.
Now, after eight years of standing by her position, two trips to the Washington Supreme Court, and two petitions to the US Supreme Court, the high court recently refused to hear her case. So much for freedom of religion. So much for justice.
The Old Testament prophet Amos wrote, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24 (ESV)
The legal waters seem awfully murky.
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