Legal Violations = Moral Judgment?

While reading the newspaper or watching the news it is easy to look on the subjects of the daily headlines criminals devoid of all sense of morality. Whether they be thieves, murderers, or unruly protesters, they are so often marked with bad character without even a thought to why or how they came to the current situation. Aren’t all people innocent until proven guilty? Even then, there may have been an acceptable motivation behind their actions.

For example, when Martin Luther King Jr marched while knowing it was against the law, he had a reason. Although he was arrested, he made his point and he aided in the Civil Rights Movement. He was protesting the maltreatment of people and unequal human rights. How can anyone argue with that, treating all people fairly? In the end, most people forgot that he was arrested in the scope of all that he accomplished for his imprisonment was more of a desire for consistency in the legal system rather than a punitive measure.

Also, what about those who accidentally run a red light? Are they so terrible as to be lacking in any moral sense? Speaking from experience in this arena, accidents happen and most of the time these infractions happen at the very last minute when the light has just turned from yellow to red. It can take just a split second of distraction to unintentionally run a red light. At the same time, how can we call someone immoral for running a red light at any time? Other things catch our attention. However, it is dangerous and it can cause harm to either yourself or other drivers and passengers. This is why it is ok for the law enforcement to issue tickets for such actions.

Even though legal violations are not a judgment on a person’s character, there is still a call for consistency in the justice system, which requires punishment for breaking the law. If a court was to sentence people based on their moral motivation prior to the crime, the process would be much longer and there would be a greater chance of bias. There would also be discrepancies between cases in which the judge lived by a different moral code. There would be no way to ensure that all people were being treated the same way.

Although it can be determined that the accused is an immoral person, that does not mean that they are one because they have committed a crime. In fact, if they are, the crime would be a result of that status rather than the other way around. Therefore, we can not decide that the person whose mugshot we see is of bad character when they could have acted by accident or with some greater motive in mind.

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