What is Assembly Line Justice?

Assembly Line Justice is the sardonic label used to refer to the factory-scale system of how the courts, prosecutors, and defense lawyers make deals and judgements in criminal and civil cases, at both the local and federal levels. As the label suggests, the justice system functions on the level of mechanical mass production where specialized functionaries operate in a complex network geared towards punishing the guilty, rewarding the victim, and dispensing discretionary justice to uphold the law.

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While the label "assembly-line" justice clearly denotes a lack of idealism about a high-minded notion of justice in a strained legal system, that is not to say that the term is necessarily pejorative. Rather, like any continuous, mechanical process in a complex system of production, the most important thing to remember about the overcrowded, under-resourced justice system is that it typically functions with maximal efficiency in terms of its operations and outcomes. For the gatekeepers of the law and its application, like lawyers and judges, their ability to make time and money-saving deals for the benefit of the state and of the criminal defendant according to this "cookie-cutter" model of justice is an argument strongly in its favor, provided that there are no violations of constitutional rights, such as to due process or a speedy trial.

The fact that some countries like the United States can claim to have this kind of predictable, expedient, interchangeable system of justice is evidence that, despite its flaws and inevitable lapses of injustice, the system mostly works effectively, in some senses. While criminal defendants and surviving victims alike might not receive what they consider the fairest outcome for themselves, nor civil litigants the desired settlements sought, the assembly-line system has yet to go on strike, to irreparably break down, or be replaced with an even better model.

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