I know the justice system draws a lot of criticism, some of which is warranted, but when functioning properly it provides one of the last few places on Earth where right and wrong is fairly judged in a totally impartial manner.
Based on my experiences covering numerous cases in both North Carolina and Virginia, a courtroom can be a carefully controlled environment where both the prosecution and defense, or plaintiffs and defendants in civil matters, present their sides. They cross-examine each other and evidence is systematically evaluated before being admitted.
Typically, extreme diligence is exercised to ensure that even the worst ax murderer known to man is afforded every constitutional right. And someone who is guilty as sin might have charges against him or her dismissed on a technicality that prejudices the jury.
Those who are convicted then can take advantage of numerous state and federal appeals that might delay the execution of their sentences for years.
In the best-case scenario, the U.S. system is one of the best in the world if not the greatest, despite aberrations such as the O.J. Simpson travesty that shows the distinction between rich man’s justice and poor man’s justice. It can make a difference when accused criminals have a high-priced defense team at their disposal as opposed to a court-appointed public defender.
When such miscarriages occur, one can only hope that karma makes up where the system left off, which was true with O.J. when he did wind up serving a lengthy term for a totally unrelated matter.
While the deck does tend to be stacked against the poor, just about every defendant — including those alleged to have committed heinous crimes — benefits in some way from the system that makes sure all their rights are protected. They end up receiving every possible consideration compared to the victims of their crimes, who got none whatsoever.
And those who are found guilty and draw active prison time don’t seem to stay behind bars all that long, which could be due to a recent reluctance to commit people to penal institutions because of overcrowding.
The staff here at The Mount Airy News often remarks about how the same people seem to show up again and again in arrest reports. Some individuals who are charged with multiple drug felonies might be taken off the streets for a while, only to reappear two or three years later doing the same thing.
So given these shortcomings of the criminal justice system, I can easily understand why Randall Margraves acted as he did in a Michigan courtroom on Feb. 2. Margraves is the father of three daughters who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar, a former Olympic and Michigan State University doctor implicated in numerous sex crimes.
During Nassar’s sentencing hearing, the father called Nassar a profane name and asked Judge Janice Cunningham to allow him five minutes alone with Nassar in a locked room. After that request naturally was denied, Margraves then lunged at Nassar, being stopped by bailiffs just before reaching the scumbag, I mean Nassar.
As the father was led away, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis advised victimized families in the courtroom to refrain from violence, saying it was wrong despite their horrible pain.
To which Margraves replied, “You haven’t lived through it, lady.”
The judge in the case, while also expressing intolerance for the dad losing control, later said there was “no way” she would punish him for contempt of court.
This case involving Nassar reminds me of another in the 1980s, when a Louisiana man whose son was alleged to have been sexually abused by his karate instructor shot the latter through the head.
It was a chilling incident, caught on camera, in which the dad, Leon Gary Plauche, pretended to use a pay telephone in a hallway of the Baton Rouge airport as the accused, Jeffrey Doucet, was being escorted through by deputies after his extradition from California.
Yet the father ended up receiving a suspended sentence on a manslaughter charge, was placed on probation and ordered to perform community service by a judge who obviously “got it,” while not officially condoning the dad’s actions.
Both the Michigan and Louisiana incidents reflect an underlying dilemma in which the normal operations and constraints of the court sometimes are inadequate to mete out justice in a manner that lets the punishment fit the crime.
I’m not saying vigilante, or frontier justice should be encouraged or condoned in any way.
But in certain cases, such incidents do have a way of balancing the scales where others have failed.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.