What is the meaning of justice? Can there be justice when only one side is heard and testimonies are silenced? I don’t think so; that doesn’t fit the definition of impartial. But that’s exactly what happened in a recent city court case.
Now this court case wasn’t so grand that it made the papers, that media from around the region flocked again to our picturesque little area. No. It passed by unnoticed as many cases do daily in a criminal court. There were no cameras or press, just the usual cast of players. But for this one defendant, a recent immigrant to our country and a refugee from his own, the situation was frightening! Would he face deportation over a minor incident?
You see, our refugee friend is elderly, illiterate, and deaf. His only spoken word is foreign. He tries to communicate with those that don’t speak his language through miming. So he cannot hear the yelling behind him on the day of the incident, but only feels the pushes and pulls against his body that he struggles to fend off, and that is charged to him as assault.
We are summoned to court — the gentleman and his supporters: his frail and aging wife, his family and friends. I have never been to a criminal court; I’ve been most fortunate not to have been involved in any criminal case. Naively I thought all — plaintiff, defendant, and witnesses — would be given the opportunity to testify, to share their version of events before an impartial justice who would then judge wisely. That did not happen.
What we find is that witnesses to the event, as well as the defendant’s own significant testimony, are shut out. Of course, I now question the system and wonder how what kind of a ruling — even where the case was dismissed — would affect not only this man but also his children and his grandchildren. Will they see it as justice served when a case is dismissed but a refraining order not only stays in effect but is extended, though the defendant behaved not violently and was merely trying to deflect the hostile acts of bullies?
Apparently not all rivals do get their say. It appears that whomever calls the police first gets tell their story, gets their day in court, gets their orders approved. But when the police fail to gather statements from all involved they begin the cruel and unfair process towards injustice.
The system may often be blind, but it is not fair. Maybe, at some point, everyone does get their day in court, but not everyone is able to have their say. That’s neither fair nor just. That needs to change.
Daniel J. Ellers is a Canandaigua resident.