• Michael McMahon

The Justice System

Updated: Feb 12

Fairness and legal precedents are of utmost importance. Sentencing must be as consistent as possible for people convicted for similar crimes. The charge of manslaughter instead of murder dehumanises victims. Some people may indeed be “out of character” when they commit a crime (they must of got the wrong script: we were all doing the Wizard of Oz while they learned Macbeth!). But in truth we can say the same about any criminal who changes and chooses to be repentant after a crime. So there’s no need for this distinction between murder and manslaughter (much like the nonexistence of the forced mating, coerced charity or kid borrowing crimes!).

The mitigating factors for murder are insufficient to justify there being two separate classes of the crime of killing a person. I acknowledge that there can sometimes be genuine accidents that causes deaths and cases of proportional self-defence. But there are other cases that don’t warrant this exemption. Another name for excessive self-defence is vigilantism. A synonym for negligence is the intentional endangering of others.

I understand that some people charged with manslaughter have very serious and legitimate grievances against the victim. But society would descend into a free-for-all if everyone were to decide to act violently against people who they perceive to have mistreated them. That would send the wrong message. Being vengeful against other admittedly vengeful people is to be yourself part of the problem. It’s about dissuading people from escalating a volatile situation rather than trying to somehow accommodate such pent-up emotions when determining a court sentence.

I actually had in the back of my mind the notion of unprovoked fights and assaults when I wrote the first post in the thread. But I came across comments that disagreed strongly with my take on manslaughter for the opposite reason. They argued for the sake of the vigilante types of cases. This demonstrates the inherent risk of the manslaughter defence being exploited and abused in all non-accidental sorts of crimes. In my view it’s nothing but a lawless downward spiral. People might find rare borderline or tricky cases but overall this defence does far more harm than good.

In summary, it’s not merely the length of the jail sentence but the potential multi-year disparity between murder and manslaughter that I find concerning. In rare instances there might even be a multi-decade difference for loosely similar non-defensive killings(*). I think either increasing the manslaughter sentence or decreasing the jail-time for murder would lead to more consistency.

*: “A rugby player sobbed as he was handed a three-year suspended prison sentence for the manslaughter of a pensioner in a one-punch attack in a pub... Judge O Donnabháin said he felt O'Sullivan's remorse was genuine.”


A son has been jailed for life for brutally stabbing his father to death during a "trivial" row over broadband speed.

Stephen Gallagher, 55, repeatedly stabbed his 76-year-old father Thomas, originally from Achill, Co Mayo, more than a dozen times with a knife after losing his temper... Stephen Gallagher was sentenced to life in prison, and was told he must serve at least 13 years and four months before he can apply for release - though the judge told him: “You may, in fact, never be released.””

- Irish Mirror

I don’t know anything about these two cases. The degree of culpability may well be quite different. But on first impression are they really different enough to justify perhaps up to a 20 year variation in the jail sentence? While these are specific examples, my argument isn’t really referring to particular cases. It’s meant more in general. Jail sentencing for mitigating factors should be equal for all defendants. Loopholes could be easily exploited.

I understand that there can be extenuating circumstances that were factors in a crime. But having a negligent mindset of not thinking about the consequences of a crime before carrying it out is sometimes itself caused by an active decision to be apathetic towards the victim. In essence they’d be deciding not to properly analyse their actions nor to resist their angry feelings. Ideally there’d be a standard sentence as a benchmark. The aggravating and mitigating circumstances would then add to or subtract from that jail term like a maths formula. Although there might be some subjective leeway in determining the capacity for change and repentance in reducing a sentence.

(My comments are on page 1 and page 3 of that thread.)

I agree with the goal of rehabilitation on the first page. Although I add that cautious punishment in jail isn’t always vengeful. So non-excessive punishment doesn’t contradict the aim of rehabilitation. Prison may be helpful in averting there being other future victims from the accused individual. The negative incentive of prison can eventually make someone see the error of their ways. Prison is necessary for the severe types of crimes so that we can then be more able to fully trust the criminal to not commit another serious offence in the long-term and to hope that they keep to their apology well after they’ve left jail.

On page 3, I wade into the death penalty debate. I reason that the penalty of death is unnecessary seeing as serial killers can be pretty much buried alive with various restraints in a jail cell. I do understand the ethical and slippery slope arguments. Please note that I purposely refer to serial killers who’ve killed multiple people and not murderers with one count.

I just think that as this particular crime is an infrequent logical extreme, the punishment would therefore statistically be rarely used. So I don’t think there’s too much risk of a downward spiral. The ingrained evil of serial killers/mass shooters/war criminals are obviously many orders of magnitude worse than all of the other types of criminals. The sanctity of life is respected as the serial killer would avoid the death penalty. I just feel that trying to rehabilitate these specific individuals back into society is well and truly a lost cause.

Forgiveness is crucial and will always be a spiritual and emotional virtue. But indeed the concept of forgiveness, patience and giving second chances isn’t the same as subservience. It’s of course possible that a hypothetical person who committed multiple attacks is already fully repentant. Although in such a scenario it’d be hard to tell whether they’re sincerely apologetic or equivocal given how hostile their previous mindset must have been. That’s why irrespective of the deterrence vs rehabilitation or free will vs determinism debates, there’d at least have some jail time for a severe crime if only as a precaution.

Post 48 page 2:

Unfortunately there could be serial attackers who might not even try to repent after being caught. In the case of the Norway mass shooting Breivik was not only remorseless but was still attempting to incite others to commit further hate crimes in court. I think rehabilitation can incorporate the idea of reverse reasoning when it comes to such uncooperative perpetrators. No it’s not about the active deterrence of others. A proportional judicial response is about being neutral and passive towards any unrelated criminals. It focuses solely on how to deal with the specific perpetrator who committed the crime. But sadly a disproportionately lenient response to the likes of Breivik might inadvertently be seen as a vulnerability or an incentive by other potential attackers who subscribe to these sinister ideologies.

#23 page 1:

Although both are dire crimes there’s an immense distinction between murder and serial murder. Even working within the framework of Norway’s restorative model there’s a mismatch in that Breivik would of got a similar sentence to a criminal who killed just one person. I understand Norway’s stance against the death penalty. But a very grim way to rephrase his horrific crime is that he permanently confined 77 innocent victims into jail cells the size of a coffin. I think a three-room house arrest will be inadequate to change the mindset of this terrorist. Sometimes the medicine for an illness is painful and has side-effects so the way to cure psychopaths like him is intense confinement in my opinion. Restorative justice can include the notion of tough love.

The Atlantic: “Norwegian far-right monster Anders Breivik... received 21 years in prison for his attacks last year, including a bombing in Oslo and a cold-blooded shooting spree, which claimed 77 lives. That's just under 100 days per murder. The decision, reached by the court's five-member panel, was unanimous. He will serve out his years (which can be extended) in a three-room cell with a TV, exercise room, and "Ikea-style furniture."

(Post number 90, page 4.)

Fairness is a two-way street. We can’t scapegoat or exaggerate the threat posed by a particular person.

439 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Current Affairs Comment 13 and 15 page 1:


I originally titled it “Sample of my CV”, only to realise it was more or less the entirety of my CV! I didn’t have my study completed in time for the leaving cert exams. But I never actually got aroun

Minority Rights This thread explores how minorities and political opponents should be represented in the military. I present a two-pronged solution. There’s