Is Law Equal or Is It Just An Appearance?

“While the pivotal point in the rule of law is ‘equality of all before the law’, the provision of formal equality in the legal sphere does not extend to the economic sphere. Thus the law maintains only the appearance of equality, because it never calls into question the unequal and exploitative relationship between capital and labour.”

The most fundamental argument provided by the rule of law states that everyone is treated “equally before the law”, and that every individual is and should be treated in a just, fair, and equal way. However, according to Comack, the equality of law is only seen in a legal sphere but fails to continue into the economic sphere. Law is only seen to pertain to equality within the courtroom but is unsuccessful in addressing equality in the economic sphere.

The laws that we have today helps govern our society and as a result we live in a regulated, balanced and somewhat equal manner. The law balances the ideas of the state and of society. However, as Comack states “law only maintains the appearance of equality” and I agree with this statement. Law, in theory and written documents is seen to be just and equal when addressing each and every individual. However, in some cases, when law is practiced, a sense of equality and fairness seems to diminish and lose itself within the legal process. Also, I feel that equality is often only seen in the eyes of the judge and jury, and their definition of fairness is often skewed in comparison to others. Judges feel that equality relates to the actions of following rules and abiding by what they feel is correct. Law is created to produce justice, but it fails to take other characteristics such as race, religion, etc. into account.

A good point that Comack addresses relates to the relationship between capital and labour. Although law is set out to be fair to individuals regardless of their social class, age, gender, and religious background, it is seen in many cases that the opposite can be found. An example of social class aiding in the result of a court case can be portrayed in the ridiculous case of Ethan Crouch.

Ethan Crouch, a sixteen-year-old boy from Texas was driving his fathers company’s pick up truck alongside six other passengers. Crouch was well beyond the blood alcohol level, three times the legal limit for an adult to be precise. This drunken teenager, in December was driving with his passengers and killed four innocent lives due to his actions. Three of the individuals killed had known each other and were trying to jump start the car of one of the victims, and the fourth individual killed had been a bystander that had decided to also help with the car. In this cases outcome, Crouch was not held responsible for his actions of drinking and driving, driving with three times the amount of alcohol in his body, carrying more than one passenger, and lastly, killing four innocent victims. In this case, Crouch was not held responsible due to his parent’s wealth and a case of ‘affluenza’. Due to his family’s wealth, “psychologist G. Dick Miller argued that the teen was a product of too much privilege and had never been reprimanded for his actions and therefore was not responsible for his actions, calling him a product of “affluenza”” (Coleman, 2013). Basically, Crouch was so over indulged with privileges that he lacked the capacity to own up to his behaviour and didn’t know how a responsible person would behave. According to a psychologist “Essentially what has been done is this child is slapped on the wrist for what is obviously a very serious offense which he would be responsible for in any other situation. The defense is laughable, the disposition is horrifying … not only haven’t the parents set any consequences, but it’s being reinforced by the judge’s actions.” (Levitz, 2013). In this case he was not responsible for the killing of four innocent lives, and also the causation of a life that has been left disabled. One of the passengers in the pickup was left with a spinal cord injury that has left him paralyzed. In this court case the four families and his passengers family were seeking justice.

In this case, law was practiced in a legal way, however, the outcomes was influenced by his parents wealth and his race. This double standard is often seen in court cases even when law is applied. Dr. Suniya Luther, also a psychologist, raises questions of how this case would have played out if the offender were African American. She states “What is the likelihood if this was an African-American, inner-city kid that grew up in a violent neighborhood to a single mother who is addicted to crack and he was caught two or three times … what is the likelihood that the judge would excuse his behavior and let him off because of how he was raised?”(Levitz, 2013).

As seen in this case, the child went through court and continued with a legal process, but the processes failed to rightfully and equally prosecute him due to his wealthy background and his race. Laws can be set out to display equality for every individual that seeks legal justice, however, what matters is the way that you practice and follow these laws and regulations that makes a difference. Law should not be affected by external reasoning. Do you think ‘affluenza’ was a correct legal defense that diminished any responsibility on behalf of Crouch? Why is this defense valid?

This video further explains ‘affluenza’ and the case of Ethan Crouch:
http://launch.newsinc.com/share.html?trackingGroup=91840&siteSection=globalgrind&videoId=25460045

Coleman, C. (2013, December 19). Retrieved October 12, 2014, from Controversial and Unfair Verdicts: http://globalgrind.com/2013/12/19/controversial-unfair-verdicts-court-cases-2013-list

Levitz, E. (2013, December 12). Retrieved October 12, 2014, from Ethan Couch: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know: http://heavy.com/news/2013/12/ethan-couch-affluenza-drunk-driving/

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1 Comment

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One response to “Is Law Equal or Is It Just An Appearance?

  1. Goodness. The Crouch case is remarkable.

    Regarding Comack’s central point – that formal legal equality masks a fundamentally unequal economic system – it is worth reconsidering this statement:

    “The laws that we have today helps govern our society and as a result we live in a regulated, balanced and somewhat equal manner. The law balances the ideas of the state and of society.”

    Do we live in a ‘balanced and somewhat equal manner’?

    The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reports that “By 1:11pm on January 2, the first official working day of the year, Canada’s top 100 CEOs have already pocketed $46,634 — what it takes most Canadians an entire year, working full-time, to earn.” – https://www.policyalternatives.ca/ceo

    This is an extraordinary gap in earnings.

    A 2013 report for the Parliament of Canada by the Standing Committee on Finance notes that “According to Statistics Canada estimates, in 2010, the top 1% of income earners in Canada comprised about 254,700 individuals, and they reported a median income of $283,400. According to the Conference Board of Canada, income inequality has grown over time; the top 1% of income earners in Canada has accounted for almost 33% of all growth in median incomes since the late 1990s, an increase from 8% during the 1950s and 1960s.”

    Add to this what you already know about the systemic over-representation or certain populations in the criminal justice system.

    Drawing on Marxist legal theory, we might note that these profound and sustained forms of inequality – despite formal legal equality – are illustrative of law’s role as an ideological mechanism with both coercive and symbolic functions.

    Regarding the case you discuss, this is certainly an example of class shaping the legal process. Do you think that this case is an illustration of ‘formal legal equality’? It seems to be a transparent injection of wealth and privilege into the court process. A Marxist legal theorist might argue that in this case, the veneer of formal equality has crumbled.