Understanding why we need due process…

When this nation was founded, the men who wrote the Constitution had just fought a war with the world’s most powerful empire. They seceded from Great Britain to preserve the blessings of liberty for themselves and the generations that would come after them, and they distrusted government and feared government would abuse its power. Our Constitution reflects the founding fathers’ belief in the depravity of man.

They knew the potential for abuse of power was very high in criminal cases, which is why (among other things) the first ten amendments prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, prohibits double jeopardy, makes it illegal to force someone to be a witness against himself, protects the right to a speedy trial and bans excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishments. The fact that the founders enshrined protections for those accused of crime in four different amendments to the Constitution is instructive in how much these wise men saw potential for abuse here.

This is why it is so unfortunate to see comments like the ones following in a letter to the editor and story comments for two articles about two men who allegedly planned to rape and murder a random woman.

  • They deserve the death penalty without a trial or should never see daylight again!
  • i agree but theses guys are money in the bank for some attorneys and judges, they will cost millions to prosecute. I think the girls dad can save the county a lot of money.
  • It would be tough to be a peace officer taking these scumbags into custody. I silently hope they can institute some personal justice; when no one is looking.
  • Maybe they will become punching bags for inmates with daughters who have been raped, that would be very good
  • Kill them. Now. In the street. In public. Violently and painfully and slowly. I will buy a ticket at any price to watch. Please. There is no point in “justice” or a trial.
  • Most people hire a lawyer when they have done something wrong or they want to prove that someone else has done something wrong.

I could easily find literally hundreds more similar comments, just in HTO comments – not counting comments on TMNews.com or thousands of other news website comment sections, discussion forums and so forth.

Do people really not understand, as the founders did, the potential for abuse in cases like these and the reason why we have protections for people accused of a crime?

Do they not know about the Central Park Five, who were convicted of brutally beating a woman and sent to prison for a crime they did not commit? Do they not know about Christopher Clugston, an innocent man who spent 13 years in prison before he was cleared – but not before he was gang raped and infected with AIDS? Do they not know about the Duke “University” lacrosse team, who were nearly framed for a fabricated “rape” by thoroughly corrupt prosecutor Mike Nifong in a criminal conspiracy with Crystal Gail Mangum?

There are many more examples other than the three cited above, and you can read about some of them at the Innocence Project’s website. Radley Balko has a good series on abuse f power by prosecutors, in addition to his work on the overuse and abuse of paramilitary SWAT teams. Click here and here and here for more.

We have due process not because criminals “deserve” it, but because of the potential for abuse of power by government. God has given us the civil magistrate to protect us from the wicked (see Romans 13:1-4) but we must always remember that the men in charge of government are also corrupted by sin and prone to abusing their authority. A righteous and godly civil magistrate is a blessing, but a wicked civil magistrate is a terrible curse. We have limited government, civil liberties and due process in order to limit the damage sinful men can do if they abuse their authority.