Title:A Good Murder
Author: Leigh B. Bienen
Publisher: Fordham Urban Law Journal
Issue: Vol. 20, No. 3, Article 15, pp. 585-607
Description: This essay will describe a pattern which emerged when researchers examined all homicide cases in the state of New Jersey during the years immediately after the reimposition of capital punishment in 1982.
A good murder, a genuine murder, a fine murder, as fine as you could hope to see, we haven’t had one like it for a long time.”
Georg Buchner, Woyzeck (1836)1
A sense of fairness and an outrage over injustice are emotions expressed strongly and clearly by young children in all cultures. People are profoundly interested in crimes because the law and legal punishments are supposed to address that fundamental human craving for justice. A legal system is set up to define prohibited behavior and pun ish criminals because we want to live in a ‘society which is ruled by law and not by a mob, or so we say. ·
Courts, which hand down decisions in individual cases, are embedded in this system of law because we do not trust individuals alone or groups to judge fairly. As individuals we do not want to take that responsibility. We ask that far reaching judgments of others and the imposition of consequences be made according to universal principles which are objective; if not quantifiable: The criminal justice system is supposed to be unclouded by personal idiosyncrasies, class bias, and racial prejudice. And it is supposed to work with reasonable efficiency and economy.
In short, because it is a system of law it is supposed to be just, for all of us. That is why we have created it, to judge us impersonally. And consequently we should all be willing to submit to its judgments. Of course we know it is imperfect, any institution managed by human beings is imperfect, but fairness is the standard. Behind all of the documents, the billions of words retrievable at a keystroke, is the idea that justice is the bedrock of our constitutional system: due process of law means among other things fundamental fairness…