In regard to the U.S. criminal and civil systems, discuss whether or not a person should be entitled to have a trial in our systems.  For example, many say that defendants in the prominent Petit...

In regard to the U.S. criminal and civil systems, discuss whether or not a person should be entitled to have a trial in our systems.  For example, many say that defendants in the prominent Petit case should not have a trial. 

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caroline-harrison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The right to a speedy and public trial is outlined in the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and, therefore, is one of our most basic and clearly defined freedoms. In cases where an especially upsetting crime has taken place, it can be hard to understand why the perpetrators of such a horrific crime should be allowed to exercise these “civilized” rights. In these instances, it is crucial to remember that the right to a public trial is an essential component of any just and democratic society.

Trials, as a part of an impartial justice system, allow us to separate the innocent from the guilty and justify the government’s authority to punish those who commit crimes. Our government’s legitimacy largely depends on citizenry’s faith that it won’t abuse its power. Public trials serve to bring the justice system into the open, ensuring government transparency and preventing authorities from unjustly or unlawfully targeting innocent individuals. Though the murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters was undoubtedly a grave injustice, it is also a terrible injustice to wrongfully convict and punish an innocent person.

While trials are, of course, an imperfect way to determine absolute guilt or innocence, they are the greatest protection our society can offer those who are wrongfully accused of a crime. It is also worth noting that our right to a speedy and public trial is not perfectly applied in practice. Approximately 95-97% of people accused of a crime waive their right to a jury trial and choose to accept a plea deal. While this is a long-standing practice, many scholars and legal professionals point to the negative consequences of such a trend, among which are increases in wrongful incarceration. Ultimately, our right to trial must be protected to ensure fair outcomes for all who encounter our justice system as well as to safeguard our government’s legitimacy as the ultimate arbiter of the law.

 

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