Sunday, September 10, 2017

Accidents don't deserve punishment

(My Eastern New Mexico News column for August 9, 2017)

When an innocent person falls victim to a tragic accident, I hurt along with everyone else. Yet I part ways with most others when they start calling for the blood of the person who caused the accident. Or the modern version of calling for blood-- punishment imposed by the government's laws and justice system.

This isn't justice.

Accidents are never crimes. It doesn't matter how much harm was done. It doesn't matter how they make you feel. Accidents lack a key component of a real crime. A crime requires an intent to violate an individual. Concepts such as "negligence" confuse the issue and try to legitimize the hunger to punish, but the reality remains. Without intent to harm there is no crime, no matter what man's made up laws say.

Even if some sort of arbitration is necessary, which may be the case, government shouldn't be involved. Government is not a party to the matter, and is most certainly not the injured individual. Nor is society. Involving government doesn't solve the problem nor wipe the slate clean. Neither does punishing the person responsible.

Does this mean there are no consequences? That someone will "get away with it"? Not at all. There is still loss of reputation and trust.

Plus, if you cause harm, intentional or not, you owe restitution to the person you harmed-- or to their survivors. Some harm you can never pay off. The injured person can forgive your debt, but they aren't obligated to.

I understand the desire to make someone suffer when they have caused you pain. Believe me, I've been there. I also understand the wish to call suffering inflicted in retribution "justice", but it isn't.

Causing pain in order to punish an accident is wrong. It's wrong for you to poke out an eye for an eye blinded in an accident, and hiring someone-- such as a prosecutor-- to do it on your behalf can't magically make it right.

Maybe people grasp these straws because they can think of no other way to feel better when a tragic accident occurs. Does it really help?

I know my words mean nothing to those who are hurting, but I would ask them to consider the harm it does to their soul when they lust for legal revenge against someone who made a horrible mistake. Remember, the shoe could as easily be on the other foot, because even if you lie to yourself saying otherwise, anyone can make mistakes.


(Yes, I've said the same before, but that time it didn't get published in the paper.)
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  1. Interesting column.

    Question: In your opinion (I'm setting aside questions like "is prison a good idea in any universe?" and "do government 'laws' serve any useful purpose?")
    is there any point at which "reckless disregard" becomes initiation of force and/or would imply "criminal intent" rather than "accident" or even "negligence?"

    1. I don't know about "criminal intent". I suppose I would have to judge that on an incident-by-incident basis.

      An accident is probably always an initiation of force- and outside what a person has a right to do. It doesn't have to be intentional for a person to have no right to commit it, and it can still create a debt.

      I have seen "accidents" where anyone with any sense would have known harm was inevitable- some that I saw coming before they happened. But not all people have "sense", do they.

      This column was "inspired" by a local situation where a daycare worker came back to the daycare after a trip, with a car full of kids. She brought them in a few at a time, but something happened inside and distracted her... she forgot that two kids were still in the car. One died and the other suffered terribly and has brain damage. Under the circumstances, I don't think she meant any harm, but now she and her mother (who ran the daycare) are facing criminal charges. The daughter has a baby at home- who will be harmed by the "justice system". I have some people really angry at me over this column, for "defending those b*tches", as they see it. I didn't see me defending anyone- and I never said they didn't cause harm or owe restitution.

  2. Yes, I understand where you're coming from, and agree that damages done accidentally are initiations of force for which restitution is owed.

    What I'm asking about goes to the following from your column: "Accidents lack a key component of a real crime. A crime requires an intent to violate an individual."

    So, let's take the case of the daycare worker.

    Suppose that instead of getting distracted and forgetting about the two kids, she had decided she wanted to take a long break before getting them, _knowing_ that there was a strong possibility that they would be injured by the heat.

    Not that she _intended_ to injure them, but that she just didn't give a damn whether or not they were injured ("reckless disregard").

    Which side of the "real crime" definition would you put that on?

    1. Well, under those circumstances I would say she did intend to harm them, she just didn't care. That seems like a crime to me.

      She might deny that she intended harm, but she knew what would happen- you can't change reality by denying it. Hot, sunny day + kids in a closed car + time = inevitable harm. Or maybe there was no intent; she was just stupid or insane, but those things only matter to government "justice systems".

      I don't see that her debt to the injured is in any way different in either case, though. Just like I don't see "legal" punishment as a solution or justice.

    2. Right -- I don't disagree with you on "legal" punishment, I was just wanting your opinion on a specific type of scenario that your original piece didn't specifically address. Thanks for sharing it.