Of all the e-mails that arrived following a column I wrote about the Bridger Hunt case, this one caught my attention the most.
First of all, while it was evident right from the start that the writer was going to disagree with part of what I had written in the column, he was polite and rational in his response.
In other words, his wasn't like most of the e-mails or Internet postings that are written when someone has a differing opinion. He was civil.
The second thing that caught my attention about the e-mail was that the writer could write and express himself well.
The third thing I noticed was that the writer was a lawyer.
Bruce Barton, a Layton attorney and former prosecutor, had something he wanted to say and, as it turned out, it was worth reading and passing along.
It was regarding the subplot to the Bridger Hunt story, in which a young boy was accidentally and permanently maimed by a pipe bomb that was supposed to be a fireworks display.
Mindy Carter-Shaw, the boy's mother, has stated on numerous occasions that she does not want the responsible party, Craig Miller, to be punished for constructing and exploding the homemade device that injured her son, which was the subject of my column.
Her argument is that Miller's own personal torment is punishment enough, and that Miller has vowed to provide for Bridger's care as far as he is able. She also notes that we all do stupid things, but nothing bad happens; in Miller's case, something bad did happen. She has lobbied the legal authorities in Miller's behalf and was particularly upset when prosecutors told her they were going to make an example out of him.
Barton, like so many others, applauded Mindy's ability to forgive. ... It was something we could all learn from, he wrote.
But Barton also wanted to present another side to the story. Forgiveness as it relates to the law can go only so far. Barton has worked with victims who either demanded criminal prosecution for the guilty party or demanded, as Mindy did, that the guilty party not be prosecuted.
"In both cases, they felt like they were the ones to make the decision, and I had to do what they wanted," wrote Barton.
Not so, he says. There are two parts to the justice system criminal and civil. Someone's actions might violate either the criminal law or the civil law or both. In the criminal part, the actions of someone may be against the laws of society. This means that even though a person feels he is the victim, the real victim is society. Society passes the laws to protect itself as a whole.
"Therefore," wrote Barton, "it really isn't up to a person to decide if he wants to prosecute someone or not. Society, through its judicial system, makes that decision. In most cases it is the attorney prosecutor and/or the judge."
Regardless of whether someone is prosecuted, the "victim" can still take civil action by filing a lawsuit.
"Usually when I have enough evidence to prosecute criminally, but the victim says not to, I explain the wrongful action done has been made against both them AND society," Barton wrote. "They may not want to prosecute criminally or sue civilly, but they can only make that final decision civilly. They can't be the sole determiner of whether to criminally prosecute."
Barton notes that the law is also a teacher, and that laws are passed to regulate behavior for the benefit and protection of all in society, not just one individual.
"If we pass a law and someone breaks it, society says the law needs to be enforced or else what purpose is there in having the law?" says Barton.
In the high-profile case of Bridger Hunt, prosecutors probably are feeling compelled to make this an example to the many who dabble in illegal fireworks, whether professionally made or homemade."There are ways to mitigate the consequences of breaking the law," says Barton. "A person can plead or be found guilty and the sentencing can be very light based on recommendations of the prosecutor and the victim. This is how 'mercy' in some ways can soften justice. But mercy cannot rob justice or our societal system would break down."
Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesday. Please send e-mail to [email protected].