Martini: shaken not stirred

 our inconsistent legal system  

Sometimes, you just shake your head. I was reading the account of Chicago police officer Mike Mette, who has been convicted of assault causing bodily harm and sentenced to five years in prison. The reason? After being physically attacked by one man a number of times following a drunken party, he finally punched back, knocking the guy out. The other guy says he was hit more than once, but a medical doctor testified that the injuries were consistent with a single punch causing him to fall.

Now, I'm as opposed to solving problems with physical violence as is anyone else. But this smells. It's just not right. There are people who take human life who receive considerably lower sentences than this. There are people -- hundreds each year -- who kill someone with an automobile following a drunken party and they don't even get jail time. These killers snuff out lives for doing nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And here we have a case where a guy was punching back, just as we see our movie and television heroes doing every day on screens across the nation, and he is numbered with the most violent of criminals.

There's something patently wrong with the legal system throughout North America. It seems that if we don't work to fix it, we'll end up with something no better than the kangaroo courts of the middle ages that we've spent time, effort and countless brave lives putting behind us.

What we have in our justice system is an unstructured mess where each judge basically does what he or she feels like. Mary Winkler kills her preacher husband in cold blood by shooting him in the back with a shotgun. She said that she was verbally abused and her husband made her give him blow jobs, so the judge basically agreed that no real crime was committed. She spends a few months in a mental institute and is now a free woman. And here we have a guy who is repeatedly punched and finally hits back (leaving little more than a bruised ego on the other party), and he's sentenced to five years in a federal prison? What's wrong with this picture?

Precedents used to count for something in a court room. No longer. Common sense used to prevail. No more. Judges are either sympathetic to a particular person or crime and give that a light touch, while others come down like a ton of bricks for the simplest infraction. Some people are given lengthy prison terms for having a joint in their car. Some hardened, habitual criminals are back on the streets in as little as 24 hours. This inconsistency in sentencing is a frightening development and makes a mockery of a justice system that was once considered the envy of the world.

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