OPINION – Justice used to describe the process of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals. Today, the word serves as legal cover for the state to impose its will.
Some people experience serious heartburn over such a statement. This is a common response from those who have never considered the possibility that justice could simply feed the power of the state.
Frederic Bastiat warned of what happens when legality overtakes morality in our laws:
When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.
Of course, there are instances in which truly bad people–those who commit mala en se acts–must be held accountable for their actions.
But what are we to make of a system which is increasingly using mala prohibita laws to collect money from people who have harmed no one at all?
It’s essential to understand the difference between mala en se and mala prohibita laws.
Mala en se refers to acts which are universally regarded as evil such as murder, assault, theft or arson. These are acts in which there is a clearly identifiable victim or objectively measurable injury or harm.
Mala prohibita laws are arbitrary rules that prohibit or punish specific acts in which there need not be any victim whatsoever. They are often used to extract payment as a means of obtaining legal absolution.
A good example of this can be seen through the eyes of Jeffery Tucker who recently spent a day at traffic court after being arrested over a paperwork error.
Tucker was pulled over for failing to move over a lane for a police car sitting alongside the road. It wasn’t an actual emergency, it was a sting operation to see how many motorists would comply with the new law.
Tucker, unaware of the law, was stopped and subsequently arrested for having a suspended license. Trouble is, his license had been reinstated within 24 hours of the automatic suspension for an unpaid parking ticket.
He offered proof from the municipal court which was acceptable to one officer but another officer would only accept official notice from the DMV.
He was jailed and experienced firsthand how one is transformed from a person into a piece of state property via that process. “Just doing my job,” was the phrase most often heard from the workers he encountered within the system.
He described how he watched as officers thoroughly searched another man brought in on a minor offense and how they cheered and high-fived upon finding a few flakes of marijuana in the man’s pocket.
This man now faced a felony charge of bringing an illegal substance into a correctional facility rather than a misdemeanor charge of possession.
As Tucker sat in traffic court, he witnessed a system that methodically extracts money from people for victimless offenses like too much window tint, burned out license plate lights, expired tags or following too closely.
Roughly 150 people who had caused no actual harm to anyone, gave up 8 hours of productive time to take turns cowering before a judge who handed out fines varying from $500 to $3,000 dollars. They were given one month to come up with the money.
In all, more than $75,000 was extracted that day by what Tucker described as a tax-collection scheme masked as justice. Some people were assessed 50 to 100 hours of community service in addition to their fines.
For his part, Tucker said the judge was willing to dismiss the charge of failing to move over if he would admit to guilt for driving without a license – something that was not true.
In fact, I did have my license, so the form I signed was a lie that the judge had me tell. By what understanding of justice does the court blackmail you to admit to crimes you didn’t commit?
Law and order types bristle at the suggestion that there is something inherently immoral in a system that serves only the government’s interests rather than protecting the rights of the citizenry.
But for those who have been fleeced by the system, the evidence is pretty tough to ignore. Innumerable laws being ruthlessly enforced by immoral means does not make us a better society.
This is as true in Southern Utah as it is anywhere else.
Even among those who recognize that there is a serious disconnect between actual justice and what is taking place there is little momentum for reform. Too many people have become dependent upon the system either financially or emotionally.
More laws are not the answer. They are the problem.
As Tucker explains:
And yet, every law ends in the right of a tiny elite to capture you, pillage you, and, ultimately, kill you. Every addition to the law code intensifies the violence.
It’s not a problem of left vs. right. It’s the state vs. the people.
Justice, in its truest sense, will not prevail until we make this connection.
That can’t happen until we stop cheering over our perceived ideological opponents being pillaged and recognize that anything the state does to others will eventually be done to us.
Bryan Hyde is a popular radio commentator and opinion leader in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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