“Journey into darkness” is not just the name of a book by the famed FBI mindhunter John Douglas, but also the description of the experience it instills in its readers as they enter into the frightening world of why and how the criminal mind rapes, kills, tortures and abuses men, women and children. In the past two weeks I have read extensively, the books authored by John Douglas, Mark Olshaker, Dr. Ann Burgess and Roy Hazelwood, including “Mindhunter”, “Dark Dreams”, “Sexual Homicide: Patterns & motives”, “The Anatomy of motive” and “Journey into darkness”. In the process, the American society comes off as not only most prone to violence but also one which has the most dedicated, creative and hard working law enforcement and civilian cooperation machinery in the world. The sincerity, sympathy and commitment to the families of the victims of these heartless offenders is obvious, made especially apparent in John Douglas and Olshaker’s moving three chapters dedication to the late Suzanne Mary Collins, an exceptionally smart, outgoing and beautiful marine who succumbed to yet another soulless criminal and her family.
But from a lawyer’s perspective, it threw questions for which, as an ardent fan of the law, I do not have the answers. Why are the criminal justice systems, especially in India and the US so desensitized to the plight of the victim and her family? Why is the criminal justice system so mindful of rights of those accused of a crime yet so little opportunity is afforded to the victim or her family in airing if not influencing the substance and manner of rendering punishment to those guilty of savage crimes? While in principle, the legal system purports to perform the key task of public safety, offender rehabilitation and to some extend rendering retributive justice; in practice, this balance is wholly non-existent. While the Americans boast of an impressively dedicated pool of District Attorneys and Attorney Generals who go above and beyond the call of duty to do their job diligently, in India we have an ineffectual and often insensitive prosecuting personnel (in addition to what also appears to be “fixed” judges) who routinely take bribes to refrain from raising serious objections to bail petitions and acquittal efforts. The 12% conviction rate we boast of in this state is abysmally low, disappointing and reflective of an urgent need to revamp the criminal procedure code and raise the standards of professionalism for prosecutors and judges all over the country.
Critical policy and attitude perspectives need to be instilled. Investigating agencies be it the CBI, the CID or the Police need to achieve better synergy with prosecutors, not at the commencement of a trial but at the commencement of an investigation. Prosecutors on their part, serve no utility sitting in their offices waiting for the investigation to conclude and the file to reach him/her, by which time procedural lapses, insufficient evidence for conviction have all injected themselves into the said file revealing their ugly heads when the final order of acquital or lenient sentencing is finally rendered. Co-ordination and communication between investigating agencies, between investigating agencies and prosecutors in the country are nearly not where they need to be. Economic growth and wealth increase, notwithstanding, the foundations of a successful state, namely a sympathetic legal system dedicated to render justice hardly exists eroding the faith in people who desperately seek justice.
The icing on the cake is perhaps the Appeal process and the “Habeas Corpus” writ petitions. Make no mistake, the appeal process and habeas corpus petitions are critical and indispensable to protect democratic values and challenge arbitrary actions of the government. But when people convicted of violent crimes, some justifiably with the death sentence, live out comfortable life spans taking shelter under extremely frivolous pending appeals and habeas corpus petitions, dragged on indefinitely by the courts, the end result is nothing but an exceptionally inhuman and cruel joke being played on the families of the victims. The presidential pardon, a ridiculous mundane forgiving provision is the victim of bureaucracy moving from file to file and curiously enough no opportunity is afforded either for the victim or his/her family to air their views on the topic of clemency and commuting of death sentence. As John Douglas, Jack Collins (father of the late Suzanne Marie collins) and the mother of Sharon Tate (ex-wife of Roman Polanski who was murdered at the 7 month of her pregnancy by members of the Charles Manson cult) will tell you, dignity is to be afforded to the victims by atleast giving them an opportunity to present their side of the story while the justice system contemplates whether to award the death penalty or not, whether to afford probation and parole benefits or not, etc.
I conclude on a rather disappointing note. I shudder to say it, yet I have to; that the offender will always be the preferred pampered child of any fair judicial system as against the victim and his/her family. Yet it is not to be perceived entirely as a sign of a weak and indulgent system, but rather as a representation of our society’s collective civility and sense of mercy; which ironically is what sets us apart from the soulless criminals who commit brutal crimes. However, when we do not work in a dedicated and focused manner to bring perpetrators to justice, we are directly abetting the creation of a society so desensitized to violence that they become prone to it. Failure to respect the rights of victims is doing disservice to human rights as much as failure to respect the rights of offenders. Indeed, the fight against crime can only be won when civilized society stands up collectively against it, that means witnesses testify notwithstanding threats, victims report crimes notwithstanding repercussions, neighbours call police when they hear frightened cries of a woman or child in an unholy hour, witnesses defy the Kitty Genovese syndrome and intervene when a crime is being committed before their very eyes and people take precautions, educate and protect, both themselves and others through a culture of self-preservation balanced with social thinking. When we rise up together, as civilians and law enforcement personnel, to tackle this menace, we put the offender in his place and tell him politely to refrain from anything diabolical lest it result in the collective force of civilization reigning down upon him, seeking hurriedly to deprive him of his freedom and life; something we will not hesitate to do, both to respect the memory of the victim in a time before the crime and to render our population safe from itself.