Issues & Insights

Justice And The Question Of Process Versus Outcome

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Even though just begun, we know how Derek Chauvin’s trial will end: In leftist outrage. It will because this trial’s verdict will almost certainly fail to meet the left’s demand. Beyond just a trial, America is witnessing a conflict between two contradictory views of justice.

In Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, George Floyd died after police officer Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes. Floyd was black; Chauvin is white. Video of the tragedy left an image that seemingly compressed the pain of America’s pandemic year into its nine minutes.

Ten months later, Chauvin’s trial began recently in Minneapolis. The state of Minnesota is prosecuting him on three charges in Floyd’s death: Second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. A jury of nine women and six men (two are alternates) will decide Chauvin’s fate.

The trial’s many pitfalls are readily apparent. For defense attorneys, the primary concerns will be ensuring their client gets a fair trial in this venue and seeking to mitigate the evidence of the damning video. For the left, which has already convicted Chauvin of first-degree murder, there are the charges themselves, each of which carries punishment insufficient for the crime for which it has found Chauvin guilty.

The case calls to mind another inflammatory one from America’s past. More than two centuries ago, an incensed community had difficulty holding a fair trial, to the point that no attorney would defend the accused. Approached as a last resort, John Adams accepted the role at great risk and with equal trepidation. The trial was that of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre.

Years later, Adams would remotely (from London as America’s ambassador to Great Britain) attempt to take a role in another difficult case, that of drafting the Constitution, by writing “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.” Framers working in Philadelphia lauded his effort. The resulting Constitution sets the parameters for today’s trial in Minneapolis two centuries later. The Constitution, which Adams cared so deeply about, encapsulates America’s traditional view of justice, one which contrasts with the left’s current view of it.

The framers enshrined in the Constitution the particulars of America’s justice system.  What they constructed and what it in toto constitutes is a process. They could not guarantee an outcome, any more than Adams could guarantee it when he took the British soldiers’ case. Or any more than we can guarantee it in Chauvin’s trial today. As self-evident as this is to the bulk of Americans, who live by the framers’ constitutional handiwork and recognize justice as a process — and will accept the outcome of Chauvin’s trial — it is not so for America’s left.

Members of America’s left see justice not as a process but an outcome. For them, there is only one outcome from this trial that will meet their criteria for justice. Already viewing Floyd’s death as murder, Chauvin must be convicted accordingly, anything less being injustice.

The problem for the left in attaining its vision of justice in Chauvin’s trial is that the charges, even if proved, will not deliver a sentence that will meet its definition of justice.  Under state sentencing guidelines, the second-degree unintentional murder and the third-degree murder charges have presumptive sentence ranges from 10¾ to 15 years; the second-degree murder charge’s range is from 41-57 months.

Premeditation is a standard for first-degree murder, the conviction for which in Minnesota brings life imprisonment. From the perspective of many on the left, this case not only meets the premeditation standard, it surpasses it. They see Floyd’s death as the clear manifestation of inherent institutionalized racist oppression. As such, his death was not simply premeditated, but preordained by America’s law enforcement system.

From such a misguided leftist mindset has sprung the illogical logic of the Defund the Police movement. The left is willing to accept oppression by random perpetrators in place of what it claims is organized oppression by the police. The left’s sense of justice is an outcome; in this case only one verdict can meet it. Such a mindset will never be satisfied with a penalty that can come from Chauvin’s conviction on the charges he faces.

Nor under our justice system is the left guaranteed of getting a conviction on the charges Chauvin faces. As a process, it entails an uncertainty that the left accepts even less. The damning video is likely the prosecution’s strongest card and has been played repeatedly.  In performing its role in our justice system, the defense will seek to undermine this.

Regardless of the defense’s success, it is hard to imagine that the additional evidence the prosecution produces can be worse than the video. If the trial changes any existing perceptions, it will most likely be to weaken the prosecution’s case. The prospect therefore exists that the trial produces an outcome even less in tune with the left’s vision of justice.

The left refuses to accept justice as process alone, because process alone will not guarantee the outcomes it seeks. This leftist mindset extends well beyond the Chauvin trial to all operations of society — public and private. Process alone has repeatedly thwarted the left in realizing the outcomes it demands. So, it abjures process in favor of directly instituting its sought outcomes.

The left is almost assured to be outraged by a Chauvin verdict that falls short of its sense of justice as outcome. America must brace itself for the coming conflict over this trial.  Yet we must understand that the left swept us into a more fundamental conflict some time ago. The Chauvin trial is just one case in a societal adjudication between our left and the rest of America over what justice is: Process or outcome? 

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.

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