Modern Law and The Code of Hammurabi

The marginalization of those who have less due to factors such as wealth or race has been a common and ugly theme throughout history. Here in America, we like to think this problem has been eradicated. However, when the issue is further investigated, it is clear that we still struggle and may live closer to the ancient Code of Hammurabi than previously thought.

Personally, I believe that in America today, our justice system is reasonably well constructed compared to other societies worldwide. However, they certainly make mistakes. In the Code of Hammurabi, the wealthy or well represented often got lesser punishments than their poor, low class counterparts would. An example of this in recent American history would be the prosecution of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner. Brock is a white upper-class male, and was a member of the prestigious varsity swim team at Stanford. After a fraternity party one night, he left with a girl who had spurned his advances throughout the night, and after her passing out in an alley, proceeded to sexually assault her unconscious body. When confronted by passerby, he tried to run but was caught and held until police could arrive. He was eventually found guilty of several felonies including assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. The maximum sentence allowed was 14 years in federal prison and the prosecution pushed for at least 6. Instead, the judge decided to listen to his probation officer and gave Turner a sentence of 6 months in the county jail, of which he served 3.

This miniscule sentence regarding an absolutely heinous crime prompted outrage from many including calls for the removal of the Judge. This further brings several American laws into question regarding wrongly weighted punishments. Why did a convicted rapist serve only 3 months in a county jail when simply possessing 1 gram of LSD carries a mandatory 5 year mandatory prison sentence? Two instances of nonviolent petty theft totaling under 10$ can mark a victim as a “Habitual Offender” and land them up to 70 years in prison as was the case of a poor Texas man Willie James Sauls. In this way it seems that some (though not all) of our laws carry semblance to the ancient Code of Hammurabi. Those who have the money to buy top notch representation or are possibly looked on favorably due to race or class are sometimes given more favorable sentences.

Realistically, improving the system seems to be a tall task, especially when I believe much of our judicial system works well. However, glaring issues must be addressed and some provisions must be made to allow the underprivileged better access to good representation. Laws that seem to target certain races or those of a particular socioeconomic standing should be reviewed and altered. Though there may not be a concrete fix, we can certainly do better in the writing and enforcement of our laws in order to refrain from creating a system reminiscent of ancient Babylon.


Code of Hammurabi

One thought on “Modern Law and The Code of Hammurabi

  1. While the justice systems of society have changed immensely over the centuries, I agree with your point that certain classes of people can receive different punishments for the same offense, as was the case in Hammurabi’s Code. For instance, bails and/or expert lawyers are obviously much easier to pay for individuals or families with higher incomes. However, with regards to Brock Turner, the argument can be made that he did receive a fair punishment, just not all of it from the law. While he did serve jail time and became a registered sex offender, he was expelled from Stanford and banned from ever stepping foot on campus in the future. He was an Olympic hopeful but the US Swimming organization declared that he will never be allowed to compete again. His future was essentially taken away from him. Maybe these additional repercussions were a factor in his less-than-normal sentencing. Either way, our justice system does its best to judge everyone equally under the law, but it’s far from perfect.


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