The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 6, 2013

Faith in our justice system


Daily Item

---- — In the past few weeks we have seen one man found not guilty of a crime four years after he was initially charged and another having rape charges dropped after spending nearly nine months in jail.

For them the justice system failed, or at the very least let them down. In this country, that cannot happen.

We have already lost faith in many public institutions in the United States. Today, 33 percent of Americans strongly approve of President Barack Obama's performance while 34 percent strong disapprove. Last month, a poll had Congress' approval rating at 11 percent. Heck, even one out five -- or 20 percent -- of dentists approve of gum loaded with sugar.

Fortunately, one thing Americans have always been able to rely upon has been the justice system where everyone is on equal footing before the law. We have all seen the scales of justice, perfectly balanced with a blindfold covering the eyes. It is the ideal symbol of what we believe; that the law is blind to whomever we are, only judging the weight of our actions, based on incontrovertible facts.

Occasionally, matters interfere with the law, trying to tilt the scales one way or the other. More often than not, these occur when individuals try to subvert the process for their own benefit. We saw this in the cases of Shane Hoffman and Ben Scheller, where personal entanglements clouded proper judgments. Those entanglements took a job and wages from Hoffman, costing Northumberland County nearly $100,000 in back pay. It cost Scheller nine months of freedom.

There are implications to trying to add weight to one side of the scale, civil liability to protect the victims when the law is bent the wrong way. In those instances, there were additional victims. More often than not, they were taxpayers, who end up with the bill because of decisions by people who should have been more prudent.

Choosing to become a public servant comes with the responsibility to uphold and respect the rule of law.

In several recent high-profile cases in Northumberland County, there appears to be reasonable justification for review and reflection about how well justice has been served.

To its credit, the court system has been able to correct missteps and regain its footing. Faith in our justice system, however, relies greatly on avoiding these stumbles in the first place.