Norman and Roger having been arrested for breach of the peace and assault and battery spent much time going back and forth to court. Massachusetts spent time and money on having them do this. The ultimate resolution of their criminal matter was that nothing happened. Norman and Roger were the same type people before their arrest as afterwards although a little disturbed at the unnecessary inconvenience and aggravation they not only caused themselves but the criminal justice system caused them.
No one was punished unless we consider making people do unnecessary trips to the court as some type of punishment. No one was deterred because the next time someone gets involved in a dispute over a parking lot he or she won’t remember what happened to Norman and Roger and calm down. Society wasn’t made any safer by having them go through the rigmarole of the court system which I maintain has changed little since Dickens time.
I have suggested throwing out most crimes and turning them into mal actions. Mal actions would be acts that society seeks to discourage, police or control but in the big picture does not consider them a serious offense, mostly what we now consider misdemeanors. They would be handled outside of the court room setting electronically. For people without computers the local police would have a mechanism established to overcome that difficulty.
Here’s one way I envision it would be handled. After the cops took Norman and Roger away and calmed them down, they would take their information including emails, run their records and let them go. Within a week they would then be notified by email and regular mail that they were being charged with the mal action of disorderly conduct and assault and battery.
The email would have a statement of facts supporting the charge of the mal action which the police officer would have filed. The police officer would be allowed to make a recommendation relative to the incident such as no further action, regular fine or institute criminal process. Norman and Roger would be told they had two weeks or so to set forth their response.
A mal action reviewer, a neutral party preferably someone who has had a responsible position during his or her life and is in a retirement-type situation looking for something to do to keep busy would review the paper work. He or she would have certain guidelines to follow as judges do now in relation to criminal acts. The reviewer would assess the penalties, if any were warranted, which would be of a relatively minor nature in the form of monetary assessments.
Norman and Roger would have been advised no record of the event would be public or be part of their criminal record. They would be told that they need not report having been arrested for a crime since this is a mal action. They would be advised the only use of the existence of their having committed a mal action would be in the case they committed another mal action.
We would have to keep a record of them because certain mal actions would be deemed crimes if repeated. Take disturbing the peace, in some instances it is a one time occurrence in a parking lot but in others, especially in the crowded cities, it can be a real problem. I once passed it off as a nothing crime but the Mayor of Savin Hill, Danny Ryan, gave me a few examples of people keeping the neighborhood awake at night with their shenanigans. I recognized that I forgot what it had been like to grow up among the three-deckers.
Our goal as members of a community is best be described by Justice Elijah Adlow a brilliant and long-serving justice of the Boston Municipal Court. He said that “the whole point of culture [is] to give everyone peace, quiet, and the right to enjoy life.” We would need an effective way to stop people who engage in repeated mal actions by at some point making them crimes.
If either Norman or Roger party balked at the assessment, he could request the mal action be turned into a criminal offense. He would then have to go through the inconvenience of the usual court process. He would not have a court appointed attorney since judges would be prohibited from providing a lawyer in such situations because no incarceration was faced.
There would be a steep fee for making the request to turn it into a criminal action which would be two or three times the original assessment. There would also be a substantial difference in the monetary penalty if the person who balked were to be found guilty.
We have enough serious matters in our courts without the noise of minor matters cluttering up our courthouses. We can make better use of our police officers lessening their times hanging around courthouses. I’ll talk more about what DAs can do about the system next time I talk about our ancient way of handling criminal matters.