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In his work Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson discusses the American legal system. He speaks about fairness, mercy, empathy, and faults in the system. As they pertain to how people live, justice, mercy, and empathy are ideals that will be pursued as long as humanity endures. Bryan also addresses problems of unfairness in the American legal system, including how prejudicial attitudes toward African Americans, lawyer and judge corruption, and unethical behavior. It is possible to show just mercy as long as the system aims to handle everyone fairly. The topics discussed in Bryan Stevenson's book will be examined in this essay. By the end of this article, we will also note a digression from his reasoning while maintaining the theme.
Justice refers to the ideal of fairness and impartiality. Social justice is a standard that many systems of governance seek, as envisioned in many constitutions world over. Justice deals with the idea that all humans are created equal and are subsequently entitled to similar treatment as the next person. Justice must not just be done but must be undoubtedly seen to be done. Being seen to be done brings in the concept of procedures. Procedures are steps taken before reaching an absolute decision. Outlined ways of doing things have to be followed instead of mere discretion to ensure that everyone feels that they have been treated fairly. Justice, therefore, is a threshold that judicial systems, including the American, should seek to reach.
Mercy refers to forgiveness or compassion, especially toward those who are less fortunate. Mercy is a virtue and thus ought to be sought by individuals as well as legal systems. The law often requires that both its letter and spirit, but luckily discretion exists even while following the law. Discretion and dealing with each case according to the circumstances it possesses go hand in hand. This flexibility gives allowance for mercy. The less fortunate as Bryan describes in some detail, include the poorly treated individuals: women, the mentally and emotionally ill, youth, and some people who fall into more than one of those categories, not to mention those who identify as non-white. These groups deserve compassion, bearing on the fact that they have special needs as compared to standard groups (Stevenson and Stevenson 55).
Humanity refers to the quality of being benevolent. Humanity has a bearing on justice and mercy. While being benevolent, one considers supremely the fact that the other human is created as they also are. This consideration ensures that reasonableness and set out procedures are followed in dealing with the fellow human. Thus justice is achieved. For instance, African-Americans in the Jim Crow period were treated as if they were not humans. This treatment placed them on a lower pedestal compared to the highly esteemed Whites who at that time dominated the era. Bryan Stevenson was so dedicated to ensuring this theme was well articulated in the American legal system (Stevenson and Stevenson 23).
The perception of African-Americans as dangerous people is wrong and ought not to find a place in the mind of any human. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law and that is how all should be treated; equally. People should be declared harmful to the peace-loving society only by evidence. In his book the character Myers who is not considered a good man and as a method to reduce his conviction for the Pittman murder, claims to have witnessed Walter McMillian committing the act. There was no evidence against McMillian—except for the said interracial affair which affected his history and a good reputation (Stevenson and Stevenson 60).
Further is the issue of convictions without conclusive cases that are mostly characterized by insufficient evidence. In practice, the law of proof operates in different ways depending on the type of cases involved. Civil cases will require the case to be proved on a balance of probabilities that is to say deciding on the lesser evil while in criminal matters the case is usually proved beyond any reasonable doubt. Now, justice being the priority in any legal system means that before a person is convicted, his/her guilt ought to be proved based on the stated standards depending on the type of the case. A reasonable jury will be able to determine the thin line that exists between mercy and justice. Walter was wrongfully convicted and this undoubtedly led to his death. This series of events was never justice.
However, there are some points of which would be disputable in the author's discourse. In as much as his life experiences are the ones that ensured that he wrote the book, he could have been misguided due to the bitterness in him. Growing up as a black and experiencing all sorts of discriminations that could have been equated to the Jim Crow period, he may have been prejudicial in his conclusions. For instance, perhaps he ought to have focused more on the justice system than on the person who died- Walter McMillian. Maybe he ought to have given recommendations on how to facilitate the change of the judicial system to ensure justice prevails. When justice is upheld, then for sure, humanity will be at peace. It all begins with change not just criticizing.
In conclusion, not only the American but also most legal systems world over have dents of unfairness, prejudice, unprofessionalism. There is, however, room, hope, or possibility for even more transformation. The various groups that need specialized attention in day-to-day life should be looked out for regarding making laws to ensure they are treated right. Resilience and perseverance by those in the field, just like Bryan, is what will drive legal systems towards change.
Stevenson, Bryan, and Bryan Stevenson. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. Scribe Publications, 2015.
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