Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied

By David W. Marshall

(Trice Edney Wire) – America is a nation of symbols. The bald eagle was designated the national emblem because of its strength and determination. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom.

The Liberty Bell is an iconic symbol of independence. While people are quick to embrace these and other symbols of American patriotism, the true meaning behind these iconic symbols is often rejected and ignored.

The Lady Justice Statue is the most recognized symbol of American justice, depicted as a blindfolded woman holding scales and a sword. The scales represent the balance of justice. They imply a systematic, rational process of fairness where both sides of a case will be considered even-handedly. It counters the reality of a shameless segment of society with its “thumb on the scale” approach to justice—an approach where too much weight (or biased influence) on one side will cause the scales to tilt unfairly in one direction.

The sword in the hand of Lady Justice represents power and authority as well as the power to punish injustice. The most severe blow from the sword is capital punishment. The true meaning of the blindfold tells us that justice is blind in its impartiality and objectivity of the law. Justice does not see who is before her. Whether rich or poor, black or white, brown, friend or foe, male or female, everyone receives equal treatment. External factors from partisan politics, wealth, gender, power, race, or fame are removed to allow the unhindered execution of an honest and objective final judgment. Yet, justice is not always blind when it comes to the presumption of innocence.

The presumption of innocence is the fundamental principle of our American judicial system. It means every person accused of a crime is presumed innocent unless and until his or her guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt. Behind this one principle is an individual’s basic right to have a fair trial where the burden of proof is placed squarely on the government. States must prove a person’s guilt to the highest standard.

If there is “reasonable doubt,” an accused person must be given the benefit of the doubt and cleared because the state’s burden of proof has not been met. What happens when Lady Justice decides to remove her blindfold? Regardless of whether it occurs in the past or present, the presumption of innocence has proven to be no match for Jim Crow-type justice. The racist stereotypes of Black men as predators have contributed to the higher rates of incarceration and wrongful convictions for Black men. The failure and breakdown of our criminal justice system by way of police coercion tactics, youth vulnerability to false confessions, racial profiling, media bias, the exclusion of DNA evidence, and wrongful conviction despite inconsistent evidence is an unfailing side of America’s dark and painful history.

From the Emmett Till story to the Scottsboro Boys, who were wrongly convicted of raping two white women, to the Exonerated Five, who were wrongly convicted of brutally assaulting and raping a white woman jogging in New York City’s Central Park, Black men in America have continued to be perceived as dangerous and violent. The perception of Black men as a danger to white women, in particular, is deeply rooted in the history and legacy of slavery. In Louisiana, for instance, rape was only considered a crime when the victim was a white woman, according to the American Bar Association, and capital punishment was a mandatory punishment for rape and attempted rape only when the alleged attacker was an enslaved person (and Black). This is what happens when Lady Justice removes her blindfold, sees the race of the people before her, and then decides to abuse the authority of the sword. As a result, Black men were killed for crimes they didn’t commit, and it still occurs today.

In the American justice system, no one is above the law, not even a president. The law is to be fairly, impartially, and consistently enforced by the courts, which should be independent from other branches of government. Again, what happens when Lady Justice removes her blindfold, sees the wealth and power of the person before her, and then decides to allow the “thumb on the scale” type of justice to tip the balance of fairness in one direction? While Donald Trump is no longer president, as a citizen, he still has a tremendous amount of power and influence throughout our nation and within all levels of our legal justice system. Four separate jurisdictions, New York, Florida, Georgia, and Washington D.C., have criminal prosecutions against the former president.

Three of the four might not reach the courtroom before the 2024 presidential election. Justice is best served when trials take place without undue delay. If the defendant were anyone other than Donald Trump, the wheels of justice would likely not be grinding to a halt. This now denies the American voter the opportunity to see the facts and outcomes from all four cases prior to choosing the next president of the United States. With the Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon, the “thumb on the scale” justice is most obvious in Florida. Critics of Cannon point to her slow-walking her decisions and the apparent pandering to Trump’s requests to delay the trail. Now, Judge Cannon has postponed the trial indefinitely, thereby removing the balance of justice. Trump’s long-term strategy is to delay his trials, get elected, and then make the trials go away.

Justice delayed by Judge Cannon and the U.S. Supreme Court means justice could ultimately be denied to the American people.

David W. Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization TRB: The Reconciled Body and author of the book God Bless Our Divided America