IntroductionIn the book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson presents various struggles and challenges that represent indigent people who have been accused of committing serious criminal offenses (Sutton, 2016). This book presents a vivid illustration of the injustices that systemically persist within the process of administering criminal justice, especially in the South.
It is essential to note that the title of the book ‘Just Mercy’ presents the paradigm shift in the criminal justice system that Stevenson tries to undertake by his narrative. This paper presents an in-depth response to and review of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption through a critical analysis of the theories and themes implored therein.
Response on the Concept of Justice and Mercy
In the contemporary understanding of the concept of criminal punishments and criminal law, the concepts of mercy and law are often presented as oppositional pillars of zero-sum game (Conover, 2014). In such an instance, the views of the conservative always favor punishments that are geared towards achieving justice while, on the other hand, the liberal view is in favor of any punishment that is aimed at achieving mercy. Therefore, it follows that when requiring justice, mercy is denied, while justice is undermined while giving mercy.
I find it interesting how Stevenson's title, as well as the thematic approach, take some opposing tracks while attempting to marry the two concepts of mercy and Justice (Conover, 2014). For example, according to Stevenson, the achievement of justice implies an exhibition of mercy characterized by the ability to treat the accused individual as a person with human dignity.
On the other hand, offering mercy implies an appreciation of the circumstances that surround the actions of the defendant criminal and is the best approach to achieve justice. In other words, Stevenson's theoretical frame advocates for the use of mercy as a way of achieving justice instead of avoiding it.
Based on the various examples of injustices provided by Stevenson, the most important question is the manner in which the federal and state government should reform criminal justice systems with the aim of eradicating and preventing any future occurrences (Sutton, 2016). Even though reforms in policy are always vital, the main thematic concern of Stevenson’s arguments is that injustices primarily emanate from some set of cultural norms. In this light, the present legal system has often ignored mercy while embracing justice.
In an attempt to understand how mercy has been attacked in the name of justice, it is essential to understand the most dominant cultural conception and perception of justice. In any judicial system, there are two main categories of individuals, i.e., those that transgress the law and those that abide by it (Conover, 2014). It is thus essential to note that those who abide by the law ought to be accorded the benefit of the doubt and presumed innocent.
Thus, law-abiding individuals are often presumed as 'good' people for practical purposes. However, the law transgressors often face quite immediate condemnation. As such, their various choices to commit criminal offenses result in a change to their identities within the society (Sutton, 2016). Therefore, for practical purposes, they are naturally presumed to be 'evil' or 'bad' people within society. This category of individuals cannot be accorded any individualized consideration or human dignity.
It is important to note that once the federal government or the state indicts a person, the individual often shifts automatically from being 'good' to being a law-breaking individual labeled as 'bad' within the society. The accompanying stigmatization for such individuals is always immense and, in most cases, tend to be permanent. Stevenson presents that this was the case with Walter MacMillan.
From Stevenson’s arguments, it is essential to underscore the fact that societies need a paradigm shift to accord the accused persons some significant levels of human dignity. However, such reform will remain unlikely, especially without some dominant alternative. Notably, Stevenson presents a model (just mercy) which could play an essential role in replacing the current dehumanizing and destructive approach (Conover, 2014). This approach shows the idea that mercy should play a complementing role in justice rather than an opposing role.
The baseline for such an argument is that the pursuit of justice should encamp mercy as well. Such an approach will not mean that people who commit crimes would cease to serve punishments, but rather it will permit the imposition of punishment that accurately indicates what is deserved by the accused in the light of some real facts.
In conclusion, Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, presents essential narrative contributions, especially in revealing the level to which injustice and racism have continued to define the criminal justice system in America. Most importantly, he makes some essential, albeit rhetorical moves to make a shift in the concept of mercy from that which is oppositional to justice to a more compatible one.
As such, the primary remedy to injustice could be the re-presentation of mercy to emphasize human dignity, which, according to Stevenson, still persists in America. In light of Stevenson's arguments, the present legal system has often ignored mercy while embracing justice.
Conover, F. (2014). Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson. Retrieved from https://nyuscholars.nyu.edu/en/publications/ijust-mercy-a-story-of-justice-and-redemptioni-by-bryan-stevenson
Sutton, J. L. (2016). Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption: Bryan Stevenson (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014). Retrieved from http://texaslawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Berry.Final_.pdf
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