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1. Emotions and the Law: Seeing Criminal Justice as a Defendant or Victim

Criminal justice is typically thought of as institutional, political and legal. Studying criminal law often involves a studious attempt at distancing oneself from the raw human matter that is all too often implicated through criminal justice. By and large, this is the conventional perspective that this course will adopt. Yet it is important to remind ourselves that, before all else, criminal justice is a place where lives are broken and hopes dashed even as, occasionally, some degree of succor and vindication is provided. When the State comes down with full force to enforce the law, it does so with a unique degree of (legitimate) violence. This may explain both literature and, particularly, the movies' infatuation with the trial, a theme that we will return to.

To begin this introduction to criminal justice, therefore, it may serve us well to contemplate the range of emotions that the system, institutional and legal as it is, may trigger: shame, relief, anger, joy, empathy, melancholy, contempt, hatred, pardon, etc. One of the ways of doing this is to take a step away from the professional and institutional roles that the lawyer inhabits to see criminal justice from the perspective of those, typically untrained in the ways of the law, who face it: defendants, victims and witnesses. What does criminal justice look like through their eyes? How might one conceive criminal justice as primarily an encounter between the highly trained professional and the profane interloper?

The role of emotions in criminal justice has become a focus of scholarly inquiry in recent years (see bibliography, infra). For some, emotions are what is wrongly repressed by criminal justice's operation and what the system needs to do a better job of working with. For others, the appeal to emotion by the system is a dangerous departure from the sternness and solemnity of justice. The videos that follow, gleaned from Youtube, are all testimony in their different ways to the rawness of criminal justice.  Please note that those are from jurisdictions that allow the presence of cameras in courtrooms, in itself an important aspect of the visibility of justice to society and, indeed, the world at large.

In preparation for this first class, it is also worth reminding ourselves that the criminal justice is not remote but something that has probably in some way or other impacted our lives and those of our communities. Even if we are not directly its subject/object, the ripple effects of trials are such that no one is ever entirely immune from crime or criminal justice.