Is Vigilante Justice Sometimes Justified?
Horse thieves should be lynched.
This is a Q1 violation if you believe that individuals should not measure guilt and weigh punishment or you believe in the justice system. It may also be a Q1 violation if you think that evidence of guilt must be high before a death penalty is carried out or you are against the death penalty in general.
This is not a Q2 violation if you would not blame someone who lynched you because he thought you stole his horse.
Vigilante justice is the assignment of guilt and administration of punishment by an individual or group that is not an official agent of the law (or is an agent of the law but is acting outside the bounds of authority). If you live in a society where there is a system for investigating guilt and administering punishment, you must have a justification for working outside of that system if you believe in vigilante justice.
Which of these reasons (if any) for vigilante justice would you allow?
- You do not believe in government-run systems of justice.
- The current justice system is corrupt. For example, judges accept bribes.
- The result of a trial was not what you wanted. For example, perhaps the suspect was convicted of manslaughter instead of murder, or perhaps the sentence was too lenient.
- The results of a criminal trial were clearly unjust. For example, the suspect was found innocent on a technicality, or the suspect was not convicted because of the prosecutor’s incompetence.
- There is not sufficient evidence for a criminal trial. For example, you can’t produce legally admissible evidence to prove that the accused assaulted you and his friends are alibiing him.
- The law does not consider the action illegal, but you consider it a crime. Such actions might include breaking marriage vows, blasphemy, insulting someone’s mother, going back on a promise, firing an employee without a good reason, displaying an indecent piece of art, selling an objectionable book, keeping an elephant in a zoo, killing animals for fur, and some kinds of logging.
- The law is unable to prosecute (because the offender is under age or lives outside the jurisdiction where the crime was committed, for example).
- You desire personal revenge.
All of these justifications bring with them additional difficulties. For example, is it best to work outside a broken system, try to repair it, or both? Might vigilante justice violate prohibitions against double jeopardy? Does that matter? And what standard of evidence should the vigilante require before meting justice?
If you are willing to take the law into your own hands, are you willing to accept the consequences? Should you be? For example, if you lynch a man for stealing your horse, would you:
- Lie to the police when they inquired about the hanging?
- Consider killing a witness to the hanging to keep her quiet?
- Blame the lynched man’s companions for coming after you to punish you for killing their friend?
- Change your answers to any of these questions if you discovered that the man you lynched was innocent?
- Find and lynch the party that really was guilty after accidentally hanging an innocent man?
- Accept the fact that by working outside the system you may be hurting other peoples’ confidence in the system?
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.