Justice: System of Inequality

An interesting facet of society involves the lack of variation within law for thousands of years. Although not explicitly stated in federal or state laws, there is a divide between the punishments are awarded for social class mirroring the divide within the Code of Hammurabi. 

The greatest example of the effect of economic influence on punishments arises from a court case in 2013. It involved Ethan Couch, a 16 year old who killed four people in a driving accident while under the influence (New York Times). His punishment was only 10 years of probation, a result was largely influenced by his family’s wealth (New York Times). Unlike Ethan Couch, a woman named Kelsey Sue Cooper, who was 34 at the time of the trial, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a similar DUI case in which her actions led to one person’s death (Sun Sentinel). So why did Kelsey get punished with 10 years of prison while Ethan Couch was only given 10 years’ probation? The punishment received was due to the financial status of each individual. The judge who ruled on Couch’s punishment made the decision after a psychologist argued, “[he] should not be sent to prison because he suffered from ‘affluenza’” (New York Times). This is clear evidence that the judge was influenced by the economic status of Couch. Sue Cooper, however, did not have the same wealthy background as Couch; Sue Cooper worked as a federal employee before the incident (CBS12). The lack of recognition of a position in high position would suggest that she did not make anything close to the estimated $250,000 plus Couch’s parents made annually (New York Times). Sue Cooper’s financial power lacked the influence that Couch had and therefore could not reduce the punishment she received.

Our laws, although stated differently from the Code of Hammurabi, are still very similar to how the code was enforced. The two court cases mentioned above have strong evidence that support the connection. Modern day law is typically stated in the manner that applies to all persons. For example, regardless of who you are it is illegal to drive in Maryland with a blood alcohol level of .07 percent and above (Criminal Lawyer Maryland). This law in Maryland is applied equally to all for those in violation; however, it is the price of the fine and legal costs that differ for a person charged. The cost differs in the financial impact on the individual. For example, if a midshipman and Jeff Bezos both got a DUI the cost and impact to the midshipman would hit hard as their income could not cover the cost of legal fees and fines for a DUI. However, for a billionaire like Jeff Bezos, a DUI would cost virtually the same as a speeding ticket. Bezos’s financial influence alone would allow him to take care of legal fees and fines. This is similar to the Code of Hammurabi article 196 and article 198, which describe the punishment for the damaging of a person’s eye but the punishment received varies because of an individual’s financial status. 

In order to correct this ancient problem, a simple solution is all that is needed. The United States only has to look at Finland for punishments. In Finland, the government issues fines based on the income of those convicted. Applying this to the United States would discourage and impact all offenders equally because it would remove the financial advantage of the affluent.

Word count: 578

Edited by: MIDN 4/C Metz

Sources:

Code of Hammurabi

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/palm-beach/fl-pn-west-boca-fatal-crash-20170222-story.html

https://cbs12.com/news/local/tears-flow-as-woman-sentenced-in-fatal-dui-crash

https://criminallawyermaryland.net/maryland-dui-lawyer/dwi/dui-vs-dwi/

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