What is it like to be a judge? The professionals admit that often “it is like being wrong”. Following cases show the perils of finding justice and offer you an opportunity to make your own judgement.
Judges Judged at Nurnberg
After the horrors of the World War II the Nurnberg Trials punished the perpetrators of Nazi atrocities. Among those perpetrators, there were also Nazi jurists – judges and lawyers that applied distorted racist law of Third Reich and sent people to concentration camps or sterilization. They all pleaded not guilty and stated that they had only followed the Nazi law – without the possibility to influence its content or decide otherwise. Did they contribute to Nazi mayhem or did they only do their job? Some of the Nazi judges were acquitted; however, others were sentenced up to 20 years. The trial inspired Oscar movie Judgement at Nuremberg.
Coffee Case of $160.000
Stella Liebeck, nearly 80 years old grandma from New Mexico, sued McDonalds for $200.000. She purchased a cup of coffee at the drive-through window and while sitting at the passenger’s seat of a car, she tried to add milk and sugar. The hot liquid spilled and severely burned her skin. Was she careless or was it the vendor’s fault? The court ruled that 20% of the responsibility for accident was carried by Liebeck and the rest by McDonalds. Therefore it reduced original damages of $200.000 and ordered McDonalds to pay out “only” $160.000.
Daughter and Slaughter
An alcohol addict father in Slovakia forced his children to choke their grandmother to death. With a knife in his hand, he threatened to kill them all if they would refuse. The oldest of the kids, a juvenile girl over fifteen, strangled her grandmother in order to preserve lives of her siblings as well as her own. Was she a slaughterer? In 1980 the Supreme Court ruled out that the girl’s action was a necessity under duress, sacrificing one life instead of several others. If she had saved only herself, she would have been criminally responsible. But she saved also her siblings, which exculpated her. This conclusion remains highly controversial. On the one hand, it could mean that one person may be killed to donate organs that will save two or more other people. On the other hand, it provides that the only solution of so called Rock climber’s dilemma is a slaughter. In this dilemma, two rock climbers are high on vertical wall connected by a rope, when one of them suddenly slips, loses consciousness and hangs over the abyss. To get to safety, the other rock climber may only cut off the rope and let his friend fall.
Shoko Asahara, nearly blind Japanese, founded a doomsday cult called Aum Shinrikyo in 1987. The cult grew worldwide to more than 10.000 members, reached remarkable income based on computer business and indulged in weapons testing and smuggling. Asahara plotted sarin gas attack in Tokyo subway, which occurred in March 1995, left 13 dead and more than one thousand wounded. Although Asahara’s lawyers claimed he was insane and mentally ill, the court sentenced him to death.
The terrorist actions of Irish Republican Army (IRA) against the UK escalated in 1970s’. The British arrested several IRA members in response. The British needed to obtain any information that could stop further terrorist strikes. Therefore they interrogated the detainees by so called five techniques: combination of wall-standing, hooding, exposure to noise, deprivation of sleep and food. Ireland accused the UK of inhuman treatment of Irish citizens. The UK replied that this way of information gathering was adequate to the dangers posed by terrorists. In 1978, the European Court on Human rights stated that the UK was responsible for inhumane treatment of detainees. Nevertheless, vivid discussions remain on how far interrogations may go, especially in “ticking bomb scenario”, when the detainee obviously refuses to reveal information about imminent terrorist strike.
US drug addict Brandon Palladino was caught by his mother-in-law while taking her jewellery. He strangled her and therefore was convinced for 25 years imprisonment. In her last will, the mother-in-law dedicated $250.000 USD to her daughter – Brandon’s wife. Several months later the daughter died of overdose. As her spouse, imprisoned Brandon claimed $250.000 to be his own lawful heritage. Should he inherit the money passed to his wife by the mother-in-law that he had murdered? No, in 2014 the Appeal Court in Brooklyn decided that nobody should benefit from illegal harmful act.
The Witch Hammer
During 17th century, hundreds of women were accused of being witches. In Czech and Moravian lands infamous inquisitor Boblig of Edelstad tortured the innocent women to enforce their confession. At the end of pre-arranged trial, most of Boblig’s victims burned at stake, while he confiscated their possession and remained unpunished. The torture remained significant way of trial investigation almost till the end of 18th century and the witch trials inspired famous Czech movie The Witch Hammer.
Surely, there could be some honourable mentions including the trials with mass murderers, celebrities’ privacy invaders, or rebels against public morale (see e.g. People v. Larry Flint). Unless you are a participant, you may enjoy recalling controversial trial that you know – but remember that the case of an old lady who dried her cat in a microwave and sued the microwave producer is a hoax.
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