What is the definition of assembly-line justice?

Assembly-line justice means applying the concept of the manufacturing assembly line to the justice system, handling large volumes of cases on the same basis with the aim of processing them as quickly as possible, rather than investigating the specific facts.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

An assembly line is a process of manufacturing complex machines, such as automobiles, as efficiently as possible by mechanically moving the parts between workstations, at each of which a relatively simple operation is performed. Assembly-line justice is the application of this principle to the justice system. It is almost always...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

An assembly line is a process of manufacturing complex machines, such as automobiles, as efficiently as possible by mechanically moving the parts between workstations, at each of which a relatively simple operation is performed. Assembly-line justice is the application of this principle to the justice system. It is almost always used as a pejorative term, though those who favor something of the kind might call it "streamlining the court system" or refer to efficiency and costs.

The main reason why even proponents of assembly-line justice would not wish to use the term is that assembly lines are created to produce uniform products. In the justice system, every case is different, so assembly-line justice has to work by placing cases in categories and treating them all in the same way. This is where the tension between the assembly line and the justice first comes in. All defendants accused of committing a particular type of crime are treated in exactly the same way, regardless of special circumstances.

As the aim of an assembly line is to complete a product as quickly and efficiently as possible, the aim of assembly-line justice is to produce a closed case. Plea bargains, therefore, are regarded in a very positive light, because they save time. Jury trials are avoided whenever possible, because they are expensive and inefficient. At its worst, assembly-line justice may even be regarded as reversing the presumption of innocence, since the most typical product of a trial is conviction and sentence. Pressure to agree to plea bargains for reasons of cost and efficiency exacerbates this effect.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Assembly line justice refers to a system of justice where the process remains rigid and makes no considerations on a case by case basis. In such a system, the cases lack individuality and all cases brought before the court are handled in a similar manner. For instance, a certain type of crime will be prosecuted in a similar manner with regards to the amount of bail or fines that can be extended to the defendant. Thus, all defendants accused of a similar crime are freed on the same amount of bail. The judge will set the bail as recommended for such crimes without considering the different variables presented by individual defendants. Among such variables would include the threat of the defendant as a flight risk and their ability to raise the bail. Thus, in most cases, poor defendants suffer since they are unable to raise the bail and because their economic status was not considered or they had no competent lawyer at their bail hearing. The situation perpetuated by the assembly line system is even worse for poor defendants who are later found innocent. The defendant would likely suffer social and economic effects of being held awaiting their trial because they were unable to raise bail. In other instances, the defendant, regardless of economic status, would enter a plea of no contest in order to get the conviction and mitigate the impacts of the case.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Assembly line justice is not really a technical term.  Instead, it is a pejorative term that people use when they think that the courts are not really giving defendants a fair hearing.  To relate it to previous questions of yours, it is what an advocate of the due process model would say to criticize the court system.

Assembly line justice is a system in which the defendant's rights are not rigorously protected.  It is a system where defendants get rushed through the system as quickly as they can be.  They do not get to really consult with attorneys, build a defense, etc.  They might meet their attorney for the first time when they get to court for their trial.

Overall, then, assembly line justice is a term that describes a system that does not (in some people's minds) pay enough attention to the rights of the accused and instead tries to process them through their trials and find them guilty as quickly as possible.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It probably depends who you ask, but I would define it as a court system that overwhelmingly uses plea bargains as a means of settling cases, so that the time and expense of a trial is avoided, some measure of punitive sentencing can be guaranteed, and so a system can process many, many more cases than it would ordinarily be able to.  Cases, in other words, receive only superficial attention.

Owing largely to the huge number of drug cases now before US courts, something we have only witnessed during the Prohibition Era and the last forty years of the Drug War, many people would argue the US justice system has devolved into assembly line justice, in the plea bargain fashion, and is unrecognizable in the modern day.

Besides being faster and cheaper, it also saves the witnesses from having to testify, which is often for the best.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team