Should crimes that were committed many years ago simply be forgotten?
According to Jane Addams, a famous public philosopher in the early 20th century, “True peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of justice.” To many, the presence of peace would be a sign of the existence of human rights and a positive regard for life, as defined by the United Nations. Veritably, peace is of paramount importance to human livelihood; where no other material or immaterial thing can satisfy. Since there is no peace without justice, justice would be of proportional importance as well. Justice has no time limit, nor does it entail forgiveness from victims of the wrongdoings. Justice is expressed when an action corrects the misconduct being done, or brings the wrongdoer on par with what the victim experienced through the previous act of misdeed. In the course of this essay, it is hoped that readers are able to determine the philosophical reasons, of restorative and retributive justice, religious reasons, and deterrence reasons for the need to pursue crimes that were not prosecuted or remember crimes even if they had been committed long ago. On top of that, this essay functions to provide analysis on why the counter-arguments, utilitarianism and statute of limitations, for my point may be invalid.
As specified in philosophical hypotheses – restorative and distributive justice, a wrongdoer should focus on making amends rather than suffer, as it does no good to both parties, notwithstanding the number of years that had gone by. Restorative justice can be considered as the opposite of retributive justice, as it seeks to lower the negative effects felt by victims of a wrongdoing as compared to making the wrongdoer suffer due to his misdeeds. Restorative and distributive justice requires people who had committed crimes before to give back to the victims by being involved in community service, rehabilitation programs, or by paying back to the victims in the form of monetary fines. If one were being morally wronged, an imbalance of treatment between the victim and the wrongdoer would arise. Crimes are crimes; they are deemed to be morally wrong by society and should be corrected as soon as they were committed. If many years had passed after the crimes were committed, there is even more reason to bring them up to be corrected for the moral stability in the community, as humans should be treated as equals no matter what. The criminals’ wrongdoings should not be forgotten even after a long time, and they should not have to suffer retribution if the crimes committed were not detrimental to any individual or society and if their lessons were learnt, but they should have to be accountable for their actions to better the lives of those whom they had negatively affected. This functions to both equalise the treatment of people in society, and make better instead of worsen the lives of people. Therefore, no matter the number of years that had gone by after the time of the crime, it is still essential to commit to memory and bring the crime to light to equalise the circumstances of the wrongdoers and the victims based on morality.
Based on a philosophical concept – retributive justice, by an 18th century renowned philosopher – Immanuel Kant, a wrongdoer should suffer the same proportion to the way he made others suffer, regardless of the amount of time that had passed. Retributive justice can be considered as the opposite of restorative or distributive justice, as it can be described as a rational approach to one who has committed crimes; one deserves suffering if he made others suffer. One should be prosecuted based on whether he deserves the punishment, and not because of whether it aids in the deterrence of crime or satisfaction of society. This is based on the categorical moral reasoning that actions, which had been deemed as morally wrong, should be subjected to judgement and the bearing of consequences. Kant believes that one should always consider the impacts felt to others, especially the negative ones, before going about with his malfeasance. These negative impacts, especially in situations where crimes committed were extremely personal to the victims, could have a long lasting effect on them, with possible signs of hatred, depression, and even serious psychological scars in the long run. In cases as such, no amount of restoration will be able to make up for the pain and suffering they felt through the wrongdoing. To disregard the past crimes, where they were committed many years ago or recently, may be equivalent to disregarding the victims who had or are going to suffer as a result of the crimes, and in turn disregarding the moral structure of society where both the wrongdoer and the victims should be considered of equal value and having the same amount of rights. Therefore, criminals who committed crimes in the category of having significant negative effects on victims or third parties in the long term should still be prosecuted without discounting the number of years that had gone by.
In accordance to the general population who believes in religion, wrongdoers will have to face consequences for their actions irregardless of the duration between the present day and the time of wrongdoing, and thus the wrongdoings will have to be remembered. Majority of people on earth, around 80%, submit to theories and rules told to them through religious scriptures and sayings. For example, the Christian Bible states in Exodus that, “if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn…” More than one third of the world today have pledged to being Christians. Other religions such as Islam and Buddhism have similar sayings as well, where Islam has the same saying of ‘an eye for an eye’ in their Qisas, and Buddhism has the saying that Karma will eventually punish the wrongdoer. Thus, wrongdoings or crimes will never be forgotten if one has yet to pay the consequences to his actions. Even if people would want to and attempt to look past the crimes that were committed a long time ago, Karma, which is believed by Buddhists and even those outside of the religion, is likely to haunt the wrongdoer, which will eventually cause him to freight about the wrong he had done in the past and eventually repay his moral debt. Therefore, wrongdoings cannot and will never be forgotten, especially by those involved, if the wrongdoers have not paid the consequences for their actions, irregardless of time.
With regards to criminals who committed extreme crimes many years ago and had already been prosecuted, these extreme crimes should still be remembered for the sake of deterring them from ever occurring again in the future. Extreme crimes can include crimes that may be detrimental to the social stability of a country, cause a threat to the livelihoods of others, or even take away the lives of many. An example would be war crimes such as the Holocaust, which took the lives of 6 million Jews and homosexuals from all over Europe. Every life has value, let alone 6 million lives. To prevent such rage of any race against another race again, many educational institutions make it a point to bring up such a war crime again, to educate people of the consequences of harbouring such hate against any race or anyone, preventing such mistakes in history from ever repeating themselves. Therefore, the bringing up of serious past grievous crimes is important in reminding the modern world to never follow in the footsteps of those criminals.
On the other hand, corresponding to the Utilitarianism theory in Philosophy, the fate of wrongdoers of crimes should depend on the overall welfare of society if crimes were or were not to be forgotten after a long period of time. Utilitarianism prioritises welfare maximisation, where there is no good in making one suffer as the overall happiness of society drops as a result. Based on economical accounting for overall welfare of society, a dollar value is being put to every person involved in the crime: the victim, wrongdoer, and maybe onlookers; values of the society in each situation, where the wrongdoer gets punished, does not get punished and has his crimes forgotten, goes through rehabilitation, and so on, will be compared to give rise to the decision of the situation with the highest value, or the highest overall welfare of society. The decision to this theory is likely to be to have the criminal go through the rehabilitation process to deter the him from committing a similar crime again, and for the victim and onlookers to forget their negative experiences through the crime. Nonetheless, it is very difficult to put a dollar value to the pain and suffering possibly felt by victims of crimes, as they are intangible, let alone for the victims to forget about negative experiences due to human psychology of tending to remember negative instances more. Putting a value to a person or a portion of a person is similar to objectifying a person. By solely accounting for the welfare of society is as if disregarding the pain and suffering felt by the individuals who became victims to the wrongdoings in society. Everyone in society matters. In the event that the law disregards the negative effects felt by victims, such as by giving a light sentence to a wrongdoer who had done permanent harm to a victim, an increasing number of citizens are bound to fall into the category of being disregarded by society, thus having emotions of betrayal and loss, which does not improve the welfare of society, but does the opposite. Instead, society should remember the negative experiences the victims had gone through, and aid them in putting behind such bad memories. These attempts may have their good effect, but bad memories, no matter how hard a person tries to forget, will always be ingrained into the back of his head. The wrongdoers who created such bad experiences should have to pay for their actions. Therefore, crimes that were committed many years ago cannot be easily forgotten especially by those involved; they should not be forgotten by society and the wrongdoers, nor should the wrongdoers get away scot free.
Additionally, the presence of statute of limitations in laws of many countries around the world may imply that crimes that were committed many years ago should be overlooked. The purpose of such laws is to defend the defendant who was accused of committing crimes dated many years back, as they may have lost substantial evidence to prove their innocence. Even so, there are possibilities that the defendant may be guilty of crimes that were hidden and not prosecuted for all those years. The legal service teams should be the ones substantiating the deceits and truth. They should be the ones responsible in bringing genuinity out to light for whatever they may be. Therefore, even if crimes were committed years ago, they should not be forgotten especially if the wrongdoers of the crimes were not prosecuted.
All in all, there are various ways in dealing with crimes, they can be forgotten, by only accounting for the overall welfare of society, pursued with retributive vengeance, or be changed into something positive through deterrence, restoration and distribution. Regardless, crimes that were committed many years ago should never be forgotten, especially not by onlookers of the victims or by the wrongdoers, as they are the ones who have the power to put things back into place or at least create positivity again. By taking into consideration the pain and suffering of every single one in society is morality.