10A103 Coming Soon... by Jim Davies, 12/16/2010    

to a court near you: the end of Double Jeopardy, supposedly guaranteed by Amendment Five: "[no person shall] be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb".

The US "justice system" follows broadly the one the first immigrants brought from England - including the jury system, the presumption of innocence, the right to be tried not more than once for any alleged offense, etc. I missed it five years ago, but noticed it this week: the UK government has abandoned that double jeopardy protection, in a disgraceful removal of individual rights. What they are doing today, we may expect the US to do tomorrow.

The right is important, for it places obligation on the prosecutor to get it right first time. If he fails to do his homework, too bad. Sometimes the guilty may go free - but that's a small price to pay for the assurance that once an innocent defendant is acquitted, his troubles are over. The mere fact that the government doesn't like you doesn't give it the right to ruin your life by pursuing you more than once. This may be what awaits Julian Assange, for example, if extradition is denied and he were to be stranded in England without a passport; all governments hate him viscerally for uncovering the sordid way they go about their business, so he might be tried on some fatuous charge and when it fails, tried again and again as items of "new evidence" are "discovered."

The first English murder case brought under the new law there is described here, and few will quarrel with the final result; the proof of guilt is pretty solid, and the first trial probably failed because of a bad ruling about admissable evidence. Nonetheless, the protection has been breached. Next time, it may be an innocent person who is hounded repeatedly because he happens to have the wrong religion, or skin color, or opinions.

The repeal of double jeopardy protection gives government people a second chance. I don't think they deserve that. In fact, they don't deserve a first chance. Could it happen here? - of course it could. In England it was repealed just by a Parliamentary vote; here, the Constitutional "guarantee" is just a piece of paper and the Supreme Court can and does change the meaning of what it says, however plainly, any time it so wishes. There is ultimately no possible way to limit government. That's why the only fix, consistent with human nature, is to do away with it altogether.

After it's gone, the industry of dealing with the few who aggress will function very differently. There will be a market demand for restitution, when a wrong is done; so that demand will be met, by competing (and therefore, very efficient) firms in the business of detection, insurance, representation, adjudication and disposition. The victim (or his heirs) will be compensated, and the aggressor will be labeled publicly. That may not sound much, but it will have a drastic effect; if his public record shows him to be a repeat aggressor, nobody will trust him by doing business, so he will starve or emigrate. On the other hand if he obeys the restitution order of the impartial court that settles the claim, that too will be plainly legible and he will be able to rebuild his reputation. Justice, or something very close to it, will prevail.

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STOP PRESS: Yesterday, David Holmes died, and so the cause of liberty has lost a great mind, a talented advocate and author. His masterpiece is A Capitalist Carol, which picks up the story of Ebenezer Scrooge where Charles Dickens left off. Watch for more here about that book.