What is justice? 🙏

Fair play and justice have always been of high significance for me whether it be sports, politics, business, education, law or in other walks of life. In times when folks with money and power push the envelope on what is considered legal/acceptable, get away with it and are admired for that and repeat offenders are treated like folk heroes 👎 expecting fair play and justice not realistic always I realize. Basic honesty and decency should not be too much to expect though. I like watching shows like “Dateline”, “20/20”, “48 Hours” to see how the investigative and judicial process works. The most heartening shows are those that feature investigators’ dogged pursuit of truth by collecting evidence and pursuing leads assiduously, lawyers arguing the case based on evidence bringing closure to affected families and reinforcing belief that the wheel of justice does move even if at times very slowly 👏. The most heartbreaking shows are those where closure for affected families means just holding on to memories of victims or to objects associated with the victim/s like a pendant, sweater or a glove due to lack of physical body. 😢

It’s fascinating to look at the process and the players involved in the pursuit of justice. In criminal justice system the guilt of the accused is to be proved beyond any reasonable doubt. The reason is to minimize the possibility of accused person getting punished if he/she is actually innocent. I have wondered how some of the people involved in the process approach their work. Let’s consider a few

1) Cops/Investigators: They should have an open during the course of investigation while collecting evidence and following all promising leads. Does their training and experience help them keep their biases and emotions aside and check out all leads, especially if they have a suspect with the motive and means to commit the crime? Does the desire to take quick action against perpetrator/s come in the way of doing a thorough investigation?

2) Prosecution team: In trying to build case against the accused would they prefer to ignore any and all evidence that may not fit their case? Would they simply go ahead with their case and have the defense team poke holes in their argument/case?

3) Defense team: Is the only objective for defense to create reasonable doubt about the accused’ involvement? Would the defense team ask the accused to reveal everything relevant to the case to defense even if some of the facts may be detrimental to the accused’ cause OR would defense team clearly mention to the accused not to reveal any facts that may harm them (The defense team could then possibly claim no knowledge if unpleasant facts are unearthed by prosecution?). If there are multiple eyewitnesses to a crime and there is no doubt about guilt of the accused does defense lawyer’s training force them to still fight for a less stiff sentence by arguing temporary insanity for the client even if it’s not really true?

4) Jury: For serious crimes verdict is required to be unanimous. The jurors are likely to be from different backgrounds with different temperaments. Would aggressive juror/s bully and try to force other jurors (with different point of view) to agree with them? (If that does happen that would be like social media groups where a few attention-seeking and overly aggressive folks push their own agenda while ignoring or isolating those who disagree even if it’s for valid reason/s 😡)

5) Judge: Potential jurors are vetted for their biases before they are selected for jury duty to ensure their bias would not cloud their judgment. Is there a similar process in place before a case is assigned to a judge? For example, assume a judge is an avid biker and the case involves a hit-and-run involving the death of a biker. Would the judge subconsciously sustain or overrule objections based on their own likes and sympathies?

There are also instances in criminal cases where the defendant may make “Alford plea” which amounts to a guilty plea by defendant in criminal court but does not admit to the criminal act and asserts innocence. Generally this happens when defendant thinks prosecution has made their case strongly and as a result jury is likely to return a guilty verdict. Alfrod plea appears like a compromise and a neither here nor there kind of deal (A civil case equivalent would be defendant settling the case without admission of guilt and have NDAs signed to prevent any further discussion of the case).

Is the meaning of justice different based on the role of a person in a trial? For a prosecution lawyer is “Guilty” verdict = justice? Likewise does “Not Guilty” verdict mean justice for defense lawyer? Should justice mean victim’s family and friends and the accused’ family and friends knowing the full truth?

The question that keeps haunting me is “What is justice?”🙏

Mahabharata: Lessons from the epic

Two major epics of ancient India are the Ramayana and Mahabharata. In both epics it’s believed Lord Vishnu took on a human avatar, as Ram in Ramayana and Krishna in Mahabharata, to ensure that justice was served and peace and prosperity prevailed in the aftermath of wars that were fought by two sides involved in the conflict. Very righteous human manifestation can be found in Ram while Krishna is a more playful and adopting creative means type of human manifestation to deliver justice. A short summary of Mahabharata (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabharata) is as follows:
The Pandavas and Kauravas are cousins of a ruling dynasty. Hastinapur is the capital of this kingdom. When the time comes to choose a new king the eldest scion of the Pandavas, Yudhishtra, is considered as the rightful heir. Next in line is the eldest scion from the Kaurava side, Duryodhana. However, Duryodhana is not willing to accept this as he believes he should be the first in line as his father has ruled the kingdom. So, he engineers conditions which result in the Pandavas getting just a fraction of the kingdom. The elders had intervened unsuccessfully to broker peace and a proper split of the kingdom but Duryodhana’s quest for absolute power and intransigence prevailed. The Pandavas set about the task of building from scratch from the forest land granted to them. During a visit to the Pandavas’ new place Duryodhana is jealous of the success of the Pandavas and also the peace and prosperity around. He also feels insulted by an incident or two. Enraged, Duryodhana returns back to Hastinapur to plot his way to grabbing the tiny piece of land too from the Pandavas. He finds a willing ally in his uncle Shakuni. They hatch a plan and invite Yudhishtra to play a game of dice which he accepts. The game starts and the dice is loaded against Yudhishtra which he doesn’t realize. He loses his kingdom, wealth and even the freedom of him, his siblings and all their families in betting during the course of the game. Losing everything Yudhishtra, his brothers and their families are forced into exile. The elders in the court are aghast at the unfairness and try to instill sense but Duryodhana brushes them all aside. Wise minister Vidura warns that the health of the kingdom will suffer by the result, his words are ignored too. Ultimately, their sense of righteousness, morality and virtue is trumped by duty and loyalty to their king and they accept the result. The Pandavas go on exile and upon completion of exile period try to negotiate their return by sending Krishna as their emissary for discussions. The talks fail and the only way for justice is a battle. Duryodhana led Kauravas are a mighty force as they hold the reins of power and command the loyalty of reluctant but duty-bound warriors reknowned for their valor and battle-hardened skills. The rest of the story is about Krishna nullifying the military superiority of the Kauravas as he guides, encourages and inspires the Pandavas to victory in their quest for justice. 👍

The lessons of the epic are still relevant in today’s world. There will be occasions when one’s sense of duty and loyalty may have to be weighed against what is correct and morally right. Each individual makes their own decision based on what they perceive to be the action the situation demands 🙏

TV Series# 3: Criminal Minds

The third in the series of TV Series is Criminal Minds. For a few years when I was working out of state I used to regularly watch reruns of this crime procedural series on ION Television after returning from work. Criminal Minds featured FBI agents criminal profilers working for Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), based in Quantico. Local law enforcement agencies sought help from BAU agents for their specialized skills in tracking down criminals and bring them to justice. The criminals featured were not the garden variety, run-of-the-mill types easy to track down but generally involved people of above average intelligence who planned their kills with precision and took pride in their ability to get away with it. Many were serial killers and some of them would even leave some clues to taunt the investigators in a catch me if you can kind of dare. To add to the difficulty of the local police (where a particular crime took place) the crimes generally spanned multiple jurisdictions as they went on their crime spree. Which meant reaching out to the good folks of BAU for their expertise and help 👍

The BAU team had a team with different areas of expertise that could piece together the pieces quickly and more efficiently due to their training and experience. Some of the team members were (Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_Minds)
1) Jason Gideon, Senior Supervisory Special Agent and BAU unit chief when the series started. Gideon was widely known as the BAU’s best profiler. He had a special talent analyzing the crimes and delivering very accurate profile of the criminal/s based on evidence available. Unfortunately after a few years of deep involvement in solving crimes he suffered burnout and left the BAU.
2) David Rossi, Senior Supervisory Special Agent. Highly experienced profiler who worked at the BAU when it was originally formed, then took early retirement to write books and go on lecture tours about criminal analysis, and then returned to the unit after SSA Jason Gideon left the unit.
3) Aaron Hotchner, BAU unit chief and Senior Supervisory Special Agent for many years. This character was a bit stiff 😃 (not to my liking) but the kind of manager that has the back of his team and tries to ensure that the Agents reporting to him don’t take excessive risks or do things, in their zeal to bring justice, that could jeopardize investigations or relationship with local police.
4) Derek Morgan, Supervisory Special Agent. A bit of a hothead but with his heart in the right place. He was also often the muscle guy knocking down doors or chasing suspects as FBI agents closed in on their target/s.
5) Spencer Reid, Supervisory Special Agent. A genius with very high IQ and elephantine memory and a great capacity to absorb and understand information.
6) Jennifer “JJ” Jareau, BAU communications liaison and Supervisory Special Agent. JJ served as the communications liaison on the team to local police agencies initially, left the team on a promotion to Pentagon and then returned to the team as profiler.
7) Penelope Garcia, BAU technical analyst and BAU communications liaison. A colorful character, who was originally an underground hacker. Garcia joined the BAU to avoid jail sentence as the team thought her skills could be put to better use on the right side of law. She has a remarkable ability to hack into any system and get any information that the team needs 😄
8) Emily Prentiss, Supervisory Special Agent and BAU Unit Chief after Aaron Hotchner left the post.

Typically an episode would start with a request from a local police department anywhere in the US for assistance in solving a crime. The team would meet quickly in a room, BAU chief would give a brief based on the information received, Penelope Garcia would have more details in astonishingly short time for the team and after a short meeting BAU chief would announce “Wheels up in 30”, meaning the team flying out in their unit’s airplane in 30 minutes! Upon arriving at the destination for investigation the team would set up office in double quick time, gather some details from the local police and the scene of crime trying to strike a delicate balance in order to not appear as overbearing while gathering facts. After the initial fact finding the team would hunker down, sift through the known facts and then deliver the most important first part of the investigation: Profile of the suspect/s to the local police! One funny part of this aspect was the uniform way the profile was delivered in each episode. Each member of the team would deliver a line about the profile developed by the team, always by turn. I used to be amused by it and think “Come on, man, it doesn’t have to be the same way all the time. It’s ok if some team members do not get equal speaking time always” 😄 Anyways the profile delivered would help narrow down the list of suspect considerably and go a long way in solving the crime! 👍

What did I like about the series? The analysis aspect and problem solving approach. Start with a wide list, analyze the pattern, connect the dots and whittle down the list to a manageable number. Not unlike support of software defects or errors: Start with a list of likely causes, look for a pattern, discard from the list causes that do not fit and zero in on the root cause! Most times it involves painstaking work and the reward is when all the dots are connected. 👌The other thing I liked is the sense of justice being served and closure for families of victims on knowing what happened to their loved ones and a knowledge that the perpetrators will be brought to justice 🙏

Among the things I learned watching Criminal Minds: “unsub” = unidentified subject (perpetrator of crime), the word zugzwang (used in one of the episodes) which means a situation in which the obligation to make a move in one’s turn is a serious, often decisive, disadvantage, more commonly used in chess, the term “eidetic memory” which refers to ability to recall an image from memory with high precision for a brief period after seeing it only once, and without using a mnemonic device. That kind of memory would certainly help in job interview or when appearing for tests/exams 😊