The idea of vigilante justice has always had some appeal to me. As a criminal defense attorney, I generally do not like the idea of punishment. So whether government sanctioned or of the vigilante variety, I believe that the idea of "getting even" is elementary. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, but humans still have a deep yearning for retributive justice.
When punishment is state sanctioned, there can be safeguards like due process to ensure punishment is appropriate. Or rather when the government decides punishment is appropriate. On the other hand, vigilante justice is theoretically flawed in that the decision to punish is made privately, by one person and often with little to no time for reflection. This desire to "get even" can lead to uncalled-for and excessive punishment. Moreover, some people cannot fend for themselves and need the government to protect them from crimes.
In the US, there is very little room for an individual to get even on their own. We are expected to sue, contact the police...you know...snitch. We are supposed to let the government decide the remedy and implement the punishment it sees fit.
So with the concession that government-sanctioned punishment provides due process and protection against misplaced and excessive punishment, why do I still have a soft spot for vigilante justice? Have I read too much Nietzsche? Am I just crazy? I do not like punishment, but admittedly prefer to see a victim become a punisher than to see the government take on that role. Despite a judicial process, punishment is handed out inequitably, improperly and without a true understanding of what that punishment will achieve.
In particular, a government that claims to be a champion of freedom, but denies freedom to more of its citizens than any other nation in the world troubles me. Our criminal justice process leaves so much to be desired, that I actually prefer the problems associated with vigilante justice. Sure, the "weak" end up without adequate protection, but has our government shown the most noble intentions with its laws? In practice, criminal law in the United States has been set up to protect wealthy, white people and punish (very harshly) the poor and minority populations (see my blog article on US Prison statistics). Comfortable, upper class law-makers determine the appropriate punishment for crimes having never experience the crime or punishment. Still, we are expected to believe that these people will prepare a better system for protecting citizens and punishing those who harm others?
If the government is failing to protect certain victims, what rights ought they have? Not legal rights as citizens of a government, but rather the inalienable human rights...
I have long had deep and controversial opinions about vigilante justice, but was prompted to write this blog entry by the case of Kai the Hitchhiker, Caleb McGillvary. While the facts are certainly not 100% clear, Kai is accused of killing a New Jersey man. According to Kai's own facebook post, he had been drugged and raped by his "victim" prior to the alleged murder.
If Kai did in fact wake up from being drugged and raped before (allegedly) killing his attacker, it would appear that our self-defense laws don't offer Kai any protection. Self-defense is limited to using force necessary to prevent imminent harm.
Kai may be able to get his murder charge reduced to "voluntary manslaughter" or "passion killing", still a homicide and still punishable by significant prison time. A temporary insanity defense might help him avoid prison, but was his reaction actually insane? As Kai wrote in his facebook post, would you have reacted differently? What is the right way to react to waking up to realize that another person has drugged and raped you? Again, our government wants us to go to the police, but who are they to judge this man's reaction? State Senators more concerned with their afternoon tee-time have decided what punishment fits Kai's "crime". Would the police have believed Kai, a young, "homefree" traveler, accusing a wealthy attorney of rape?
There are efforts to help Kai raise money for his defense and I urge anyone who reads this to try and get involved. For more information, start here at a facebook group set up to help Kai. I hope that those laudable efforts lead to Kai getting a powerful defense in this unjust situation. If his allegations are true, the thought of the government punishing him further should be terrifying to all of us.
Nicholas M. Loncar, Esq.
Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney
t: 213-375-3775 | f: 213-375-3099
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Los Angeles, CA | 90017
By Nicholas Loncar
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