U.S. v. Singapore: rights have a reason

Singapore's legal system may be deterring, but it is also ridiculously harsh.

Source: http://www.topnews.in

The concept of a right is fundamental to legal theory. Rights are often classified by their sources. For example, “natural rights” are granted for being human, “citizenship rights” are granted to citizens and so on.  The principle of freedom rests on the fact that natural rights do exist and cannot be removed or ignored by any government. A person thus has more power in those rights than an entire government, and so to say he is “free” is to say that he can use these rights in defense.

I believe this to be a remarkably civilized and comforting principle, and so I am shocked when some would throw it away in a rush to “bring justice.” Last week’s Campus Times  article, entitled “Are U.S. laws too soft?” presents a narrow and uninformed view of the American judicial system, filled with confusion about the idea of rights, guilt and the judicial process.

The article suggests that the purpose of the judicial system is to exact punishment on criminals and that the precious rights we enjoy as Americans are only a hindrance to this purpose. While I would hesitantly agree that the legal system is expensive and complicated, the protection of the accused is far more important than the retribution for any crime.
The article begins with the statement, “Criminals are coddled by ACLU attorneys and activist judges who shower them with rights that are unjust and immoral.” This suggests that the author thinks of “rights” as some kind of legal loophole. Though on occasion an attorney or judge may forget a person’s rights, the sudden reminder of a right’s existence is not a loophole: It is an application of justice. The notion that “ACLU attorneys and activist judges” are “showering criminals” with rights is more than a stretch — it is utter nonsense.
The terms “criminal” and “murderer” are used liberally throughout the piece, often with confusion about the meaning of certain legal terms. For instance, the author mentions that “guilty criminals have rights before they are even in custody.”

Well, yes, I hope the “guilty criminals” have rights before, during and after their trial and sentencing. The author seems to think that a “criminal” is guilty before he is even accused or tried. Guilt is decided by the court and, though it may seem that the man in the defendant’s box is “a criminal on trial,” the reality is that he is a human being accused of a crime.
In discussing Singapore, the author mentions one case in which “one murderer was tried in May 2006 and hanged — yes, hanged — in November 2007.” I don’t doubt the author’s reference, but I have to ask for more information about the case.

Of what murder was the man (or woman) accused? What evidence was used against him or her? How many men and women are wrongfully executed in Singapore each year?
What about in the United States, a nation with an allegedly “soft” judicial system? According to the Innocence Project’s website, there have been 266 post-DNA testing exonerations in U.S. history. Seventeen have had their sentences overturned by DNA testing after execution, and on average exonerees serve 17 years in prison before DNA testing overturns their sentences.

In a country like Singapore, where a wide range of crimes lead to execution in a matter of months, how many innocent men and women are hanged — yes, hanged — every year?
In the case of Coffin v. United States in 1985, the Supreme Court spoke of the “principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused,” calling this “undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.”

I believe this to be the most profound statement of justice in democracy: the idea that it is better for a hundred guilty men to walk free than for one innocent man to face execution. This philosophy prevents fear from removing rights, separates justice from revenge and may one day bring the legal system to its ideal role.



You can contact Adam at adam.lanman@rochester.edu.

    52 Responses to “U.S. v. Singapore: rights have a reason”

    1. Adam Lanman says:

      1) Take it up with Aaron. He said it.

      “Criminals are coddled by ACLU attorneys and activist judges who shower them with rights that are unjust and immoral.”
      The idea of “showering” criminals with rights suggests that he thinks of rights as a means of evading the law. This is not a strawman attack, this is an example that shows a misunderstanding of how the law works.

      “Societies murder innocent people all the time. When a legislator passes a law allowing 18-year-olds to get drivers licenses, he probably knows that some drunk kid would one day drive a car recklessly and kill a random old lady on the streets. This doesn’t occur that often, but it is a significant possibility. The law is still passed, because society as a whole (or the most powerful segments of society) think that the benefits are greater than the risks.”
      The law isn’t killing random old ladies on the streets; No, I understood the analogy, thank you. The law isn’t there to prevent crimes, but it is responsible for bringing justice for crimes. Suppose that drunk kid crashed into another car, and then escaped before the police got there. Now Dave was driving the other car and is still there, and gets blamed for the crime. Maybe Dave had a glass of wine with dinner an hour before, and the police smell it and assume he’s drunk. The whole town’s upset that old Milly got killed so horribly, and wants swift justice. So they hang Dave, within months, and justice is served. What is the net benefit to society? The fact that the law catches the right guy 9/10 doesn’t justify punishing the wrong man that 1/10 of the time.

      “If you say yes, what about a thousand criminals? A million criminals? And where does the limit end?”
      I disagree with your slippery slope. A million criminals don’t “slip through the cracks,” and if they do then the system is designed to correct itself from that. The reverse does have a history (see, Spanish Inquisition, Salem Witch trials, lynchings in the South). Personally, and this is why I put this in a personal emotional statement at the end of my article instead of in the main content, I would rather see a million criminals set free than one innocent man executed. You disagree; fine.

      Please forgive my poorly-researched and emotional argument. The purpose of my article was to criticize the simple and frankly barbaric view expressed in the other article, not its underlying argument. I wrote this in one weekend among five problem-sets, astronomy-research and teaching, so forgive me if I stuck in only one reference to support my point that the legal system already “gets the wrong guy” pretty frequently. I resent your condescension, however, and so I end my responses here.

      • Adam Ondo says:

        I’m not dumb. I didn’t mean we should take away Miranda rights, the 5th amendment, and the 6th amendment (as you saw, I do support a really speedy trial). I merely meant that a case shouldn’t be thrown out because the defendant did not respond to interrogators, which ACLU attorneys argue mean that the police violated his right to remain silent, when clearly Miranda implies you have to invoke it, which a recent Supreme Court case upheld. And if you smell marijuana and then a lot of bustling, I’m pretty sure that’s just cause to invade an apartment, to attempt to get evidence before it is destroyed.

        And it’s not barbaric to want to see justice and to see innocent people safe. Two thirds of rapists rape again once released. I would rather see a few innocents get 25-life then see two more women raped by releasing rapists after only 10-20 years. Hopefully if someone you know is assaulted or raped, you will change your mind about keeping violent criminals locked up.

      • Xiao Yang says:

        “Personally, and this is why I put this in a personal emotional statement at the end of my article instead of in the main content, I would rather see a million criminals set free than one innocent man executed. You disagree; fine.”

        This has nothing to do with personal emotions. This is intellectual dishonesty, pure and simple. You claim that you are absolutely fine with one million criminals potentially murdering thousands of equally innocent people, just so you can let one falsely charged man go free. Tell me why you think that one innocent person’s life is more valuable than thousands of other innocent people’s lives.

        “The law isn’t there to prevent crimes, but it is responsible for bringing justice for crimes.”

        This is just silliness. Of course laws are there to prevent crimes; bringing criminals to justice is also to prevent future crimes. Otherwise it’s just mindless retribution, a response to sunk costs. I’d like to hear your elaborate on what you think criminal justice does, besides stopping crimes.

        “The purpose of my article was to criticize the simple and frankly barbaric view expressed in the other article, not its underlying argument.”

        You say that your article is focused on his “simple and frankly barbaric view”, not his argument, and yet you claim that your response was not ad hominem? If you’re not trying to make an counter-argument, you’re focusing on the person. That may not a bad thing – I personally dislike Adam Ondo’s views of the world. But if this is your problem with him, go have a chat with him instead of writing an article pretending that you’re disagreeing with his argument.

        “I wrote this in one weekend among five problem-sets, astronomy-research and teaching, so forgive me if I stuck in only one reference to support my point that the legal system already “gets the wrong guy” pretty frequently.”

        Being busy is not an excuse for being intellectually lazy. Adam Ondo and I don’t slack around all day writing furious articles and comments on Campus Times (though it may seem that way), but when we do, we substantiate it with actual research. If you can’t afford the time, don’t write the article. There are lots of people on this campus who disagree vehemently about Adam Ondo’s views and don’t write poorly researched responses to them.

        • Adam Lanman says:

          “This has nothing to do with personal emotions. This is intellectual dishonesty, pure and simple. You claim that you are absolutely fine with one million criminals potentially murdering thousands of equally innocent people, just so you can let one falsely charged man go free. Tell me why you think that one innocent person’s life is more valuable than thousands of other innocent people’s lives.
          “The law isn’t there to prevent crimes, but it is responsible for bringing justice for crimes.”
          Personal opinion = intellectual dishonesty? I was under the impression that emotional appeal was an accepted form of rhetoric. I didn’t say that; I said that the life of one innocent man is worth more than the retribution of a thousand other crimes.

          “This is just silliness. Of course laws are there to prevent crimes; bringing criminals to justice is also to prevent future crimes. Otherwise it’s just mindless retribution, a response to sunk costs. I’d like to hear your elaborate on what you think criminal justice does, besides stopping crimes.”
          As I said, bringing crimes to justice. That is meant to deter future crimes, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the occasional failure of bringing a crime to justice justifies the false persecution of an innocent man.

          “You say that your article is focused on his “simple and frankly barbaric view”, not his argument, and yet you claim that your response was not ad hominem? If you’re not trying to make an counter-argument, you’re focusing on the person. That may not a bad thing – I personally dislike Adam Ondo’s views of the world. But if this is your problem with him, go have a chat with him instead of writing an article pretending that you’re disagreeing with his argument.”
          Right, my disagreement was with his personal view expressed in the article. There was no ad hominem attack; I didn’t make claims about him as a person, or stretch my argument on assumptions about his personality.

          “Being busy is not an excuse for being intellectually lazy.”
          Being busy, and having the constraints of an op-ed on me, do justify maybe not putting in sixteen different citations. What’s the minimum cutoff of citations that makes it not lazy?

          I realize this is an appeal to authority, but if the campus times editorial staff had thought my article under-researched, they wouldn’t have printed it, so please take it up with them.

          • Xiao Yang says:

            “I didn’t say that; I said that the life of one innocent man is worth more than the retribution of a thousand other crimes.”

            The retribution of which could save the lives of many more innocent men in the future, correct?

            Unless you wish to claim that the life of an innocent man who was charged with a crime is for some strange reason more valuable than the lives of a thousand innocent men who aren’t charged with crimes, I can’t see the logical consistency in your argument.

            “As I said, bringing crimes to justice. That is meant to deter future crimes, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the occasional failure of bringing a crime to justice justifies the false persecution of an innocent man.”

            You didn’t say “occasional” – you said you’d let one million criminals go free to save the life of one innocent man. There’s a huge difference there.

            • Adam Lanman says:

              “The retribution of which could save the lives of many more innocent men in the future, correct?”
              I disagree with your utilitarian view of the law, however. The law is not an economic system trying to score the best balance between failure and success. Law enforcement is responsible for protecting the people, and the rights of the accused are meant to protect people from the law.

              I think Adam made a solid point about the issue of probable cause and search warrants. If police find evidence of a crime, it should be good to use. The purpose of search and seizure rights is to prevent police from bending procedural laws on suspicion of evidence. The law should allow for speedier means of finding evidence, such as by having a wider range of probable cause. The flexibility in obtaining evidence however is not related to the speed or severity of sentences.

              “Unless you wish to claim that the life of an innocent man who was charged with a crime is for some strange reason more valuable than the lives of a thousand innocent men who aren’t charged with crimes, I can’t see the logical consistency in your argument.”
              Right, there is no logical consistency in that argument. I don’t accept the opposite either, that a hundred lives are worth more than one.

              “You didn’t say “occasional” – you said you’d let one million criminals go free to save the life of one innocent man. There’s a huge difference there.”

              There are no situations in which a million criminals would be set free to save one innocent man, hence the “occasional.” I wouldn’t justify the execution of one innocent man with the incarceration of one million criminals.

            • Adam Ondo says:

              “I disagree with your utilitarian view of the law, however. The law is not an economic system trying to score the best balance between failure and success.”

              This is why you should never be in charge of making policy. You’re too idealistic and naive (I used to be like you); you need to realize being practical is more important. Nothing is going to be perfect, so we have to do what helps the most people (utilitarianism). Because there is never a perfect way of doing things, the best/most effective choice is the right choice. I don’t want to see innocent people accidentally executed either, but I’ll risk that if it means keeping 6 (2/3 of 9, assuming 1 in 10 are actually innocent) repeat murderers/rapists off the street.

            • Aaron Burro says:

              Adam Ondo, understanding that it’s impossible for people to fully assess utility across the board, especially valuing and quantifying other people’s concepts of utility (rather than just considering that your own utility is a proxy for universal utility) isn’t naive and idealistic. It’s far, far more realistic than you thinking that you, as a privileged college student, can be a grand arbiter of utility across the board. You simply cannot accurately assess the likelihood, costs and values of being wrongfully convicted of a crime vs being the victim of a crime. Your math is make-believe, it isn’t founded in a basic understanding of statistics and it willingly ignores the effects of (a) having wrongful convictions or (b) having criminal acts beyond just those wrongfully convicted/victims of crime. It’s not just the innocent man behind bars that’s affected by police misconduct and ignorance of constitutional rights – - it’s people in the community, who live with the knowledge that there is a more significant likelihood of being wrongfully convicted, and that likelihood is going to be hugely correlated to race, class, gender, age, ethnicity, education, etc.

              Further – you’re ignoring the fact that there is a value to being members of a society that values doing what is right. You clearly don’t agree with that, which is fine (unlike you, I won’t launch into a personal attack here, but rather ask you to prove why there is no value in being a member of society that strives to do good).

              The State killing a person who does not deserve to be killed is an entirely different thing than a criminal killing someone who does not deserve to be killed. They don’t have the same “utility” as you so would claim. We, as society, can work to reduce the likelihood that people will choose to murder through education and rehabilitation. And, if we do so, we can rightly cast aside our collective association with murderers because they’ve acted outside of our rules, despite our best efforts. If we allow, accept and stand by while the State, as a collective representation of ourselves, kills an innocent life, then we all are sullied by that association. It DOES mean more, to us. It isn’t that the life is worth more or less than a victim from a private murderer, but the implication of that murder is different.

              You talk about recidivism like it’s a done deal. We should change our policy to make sure that criminals don’t commit more crimes. You act as if the only way we can do this is by locking up everyone we can, killing some of those people, as quickly as possible. No. That’s certainly not the only way to handle it, and it’s definitely not the best way to handle it. Outreach, education, therapy – all of these things can be accomplished through private and public means and would have a better result than the one you propose. And we would be a better country for it.

              Virtue matters. Morality matters. Ethics matter. They matter most of all when they come from our laws, rules and regulations – laws which reflect our highest aspirations, not our basest desires.

            • Taylor B. says:

              “so we have to do what helps the most people (utilitarianism).”

              So when people go to a hospital they should be scanned, and if their body parts will save more people and increase overall utility, they should be killed and their body parts distributed? This is in line with your logic, sacrifice few to help many. You can’t honestly believe this and that the concept of the individual in a society is nil, or do you?

            • Taylor B. says:

              That was poorly worded, but essentially your claiming that there is no value to maintaining the value of the individual in a society, and instead laws and regulations should be focused on whats best for the society as a whole.

              Do you see the irony of someone who claims to speak for the conservatives taking this position?

            • Adam Ondo says:

              @Taylor: You’re example is not the same as the issue at hand. We are not knowingly killing an innocent person to keep 9 criminals in jail. We are “risking” killing an innocent person. And to put it in medical terms, like you did, vaccines are promoted throughout society to keep people from getting sick, though there is the rare chance that someone actually gets what they are vaccinated for from the vaccine itself. Should we stop giving vaccinations? I think not.

              @Aaron: I don’t feel sullied when the State makes an honest mistake. I feel a lot worse when I hear that I live in a country where federal judges order the release of 1500 violent offenders due to overcrowding and then 1000 of those hurt more innocent people. That judge just sentenced 1000 people to suffer because convicted felons were being put 4 to a cell instead of 2 to a cell. Where is the justice in that? Can you see it? I can’t.

              And dismiss my numbers all you want, but I got the recidivism and wrongful execution rates/statistics from the DoJ’s own website.

              Also, I have news for you – rehabilitation has been tried and the recidivism rates haven’t dropped and violent crime rates have gone up. And John schools were a complete failure when it came to trying to rehabilitate patrons (people who use prostitutes).

            • Taylor B. says:

              Your example is starkly different than mine. In my theoretical society you could not consent to being used as parts to make others happy, just like you cannot simply claim innocence to get out of jail or not be executed. Vaccines you have the right to refuse the vaccine for whatever reason (It may cost you privilege’s, but you have the right).

              “That judge just sentenced 1000 people to suffer because convicted felons were being put 4 to a cell instead of 2 to a cell.” This is a logical fallacy in several ways. The judge does not contribute to the chance that criminals will be repeat offenders. They are also not responsible for overcrowding nor is there anything they could do to remedy that problem.

              If your true goal is to maximize utility as you say, looking at the root cause of crime such as poverty, neglect, etc. would be better methods to reduce crime and consequently repeat offenders while not killing innocent people.

            • Adam Ondo says:

              Moral decay is the root of the problem, not poverty. Read “Body Count”, it’s a good book on the issue. I don’t come from an affluent family, and neither do many really decent people, but we don’t go around raping and stealing. And poverty and neglect are not the usual cause for many crimes. Look at Madoff – greed is the cause of evil (radix malorum est cupiditas). White collar crimes don’t happen because of poverty. Murders happen out of greed and jealousy and other things, not usually poverty. Rape happens out of moral poverty, not economic, because being poor may lead you to want to steal, but it can’t make you want to rape or hurt people – only sadistic people do that (and sadism/evil is not based on socio-economic status). Prostitution and drug dealing is more often than not poverty related, I’ll admit that, though some drug dealers are actually rich kids looking to make money without working too hard.

              And the judge may not have caused them to commit crimes, but he knew the probability and risk and followed through with his action. I don’t make lions maul people if I’m a zoo handler, but I know they do, so if I leave the cage unlocked and people get mauled, then I’m still negligent. He also did not cause overcrowding, you’re right, but he could have just declared 4 to a cell was not “cruel and unusual” or a violation of their rights. (College students live 3 to a room sometimes).

    2. Aaron Burro says:

      Luckily, Adam, the Constitution doesn’t provide for warrantless searches being “okay.” If you truly think that it’s “okay” to have a warrantless search, there’s really no point in discussing the matter further. The Bill of Rights doesn’t exist to punish police officers acting outside the scope of their roles, it exists to protect people from the State acting outside the protections of the Constitution. That’s a significant, but subtle, difference I don’t think you’re grasping. That’s why evidence is thrown out – because the Constitution limits the powers of Government acting as the Government – not as individual police officers independently breaking the law.

      • Adam Ondo says:

        The exclusionary rule and fruit from a poison tree sprung from an 1897 case and Silverthorne Lumber Co., Inc. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920). The Constitution says warrants are needed to invade people’s homes and that warrants shall not be granted without probable cause. It never mentions throwing out evidence. That came way later. So the Bill of Rights, which makes society less safe with the way it has been interpreted in recent decades, does not mention excluding evidence, as you assert. It took over a 100 years before judges began excluding evidence.

        The Bill of Rights was also the creation of anti-federalists, who wanted to weaken the national government and the Constitution, so as a federalist/nationalist, I find it to be more of a hindrance than anything else.

        Also, you should do more research. Your dull, unsupported, mindless comments just make your argument look flimsier.

        • Aaron Burro says:

          So “over 100 years” is a long time when we’re counting between the signing of the Constitution and the exclusionary rule, but over 110 years is “recent decades”? Hmmm??

          • Aaron Burro says:

            Also, this goes without saying: I never said that the Constitution directly provides for anything relating to excluding evidence. Please read my comments more carefully.

            • Adam Ondo says:

              “That’s why evidence is thrown out – because the Constitution limits the powers of Government acting as the Government.”

              You were pretty clear, and pretty wrong, and I read that how you wrote it (word your comments more carefully if you want, but I read it as carefully as I could). You said evidence is excluded because of Constitutional limitations. That is not true.

            • Aaron Burro says:

              Adam, I’m sorry, are you sure you want to say that it is “not true” that the exclusionary rule is based in Constitutional doctrine? No, it’s not literally in the Constitution, and you wrongly keep trying to pretend that I am saying that it is, but the exclusionary rule is 100% absolutely a Constitutional doctrine. Come on.

          • Adam Ondo says:

            Recent decades referred to the Warren Court and sometimes the Burger court (Griswold, Gideon, Miranda, Furman, and the list of cases I was referencing). 1920 was the White court, which thankfully was replaced by the Taft court, not the Warren or Burger Courts. It was decades before the list of cases I was talking about, and long after the Bill of Rights was implemented.

            • Aaron Burro says:

              Hahaha, okay, Adam. Well, as usual, this has been a trip. Again, I implore you to utilize the vast resources at the U of R to your benefit, and with an open mind. I know it bothers you to be categorized as someone who is uneducated by me and others – but, remember, you’re a college student. You’re supposed be “uneducated” in a certain sense – you and your classmates have a lot of resources at your disposal to really become a well-rounded and intelligent person – and the first step is considering that maybe you might have something to learn from others. And that neither intelligence nor knowledge are measured by the number of books you have in your dorm room, or have read. But hey, we were all sophomores once – in the literal and figurative sense of the word.

            • Adam Ondo says:

              No matter how many intelligence tests I take, or what kind, you’ll never be convinced my arguments are right, because you disagree with them. That’s fine, some people just can’t see the truth. I’m done with this article. Xiao said everything else I could have thought of.

              Be sure to stay tuned for my next two articles on the castle doctrine / stand your ground laws and abortion / abolishing planned parenthood.

    3. Adam Lanman says:

      Thought this might help a little. This is from a comment Adam left on a letter to the editor on January 28th:

      “They are the part, the small majority, who, with help of the ACLU and those type of attorneys, are hijacking our legal system to find loopholes around justice.”

      In my article, I interpret the phrase “Criminals are coddled by ACLU attorneys and activist judges who shower them with rights that are unjust and immoral” to indicate an understanding of due process as a means of finding legal loopholes.

      Though I hadn’t seen his comment before, I would like to point out that perhaps my assessment wasn’t so far from the truth.

      • Adam Ondo says:

        In that letter, I was referring to Phelps v. Snyder, which was a 1st amendment case, not 4th or 5th, so it was not about due process. But yes, some parts of due process that have been extended further and further since the original Bill of Rights was written do constitute loopholes. I gave an example in an above statement when I said that Miranda and some parts of due process are fine, but that rules like “fruit of a poisoned tree” and being able to invoke your right to remain silent without actually invoking verbally became are just hindrances.



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