Crime and due process: Is there room for dialogue and compromise?

Two groups are currently battling it out in public and cyberspace debates. To put it simply, I call them the crime control advocates and the due process advocates. (For the interested reader, see the classic Packer article written in 1964 where I borrowed the concepts).

The crime control advocates want to eradicate crime and they want it done quickly.

They emphasize the factual guilt of the criminal. If a suspect admitted his or her guilt, especially if he or she is a drug user, they want him or her dead. They are willing to give the police benefit of the doubt, even if the police are corrupt, because one dead criminal is better for everyone else. They are also willing to use shortcuts, especially if the guilt is clear as daylight, for subjecting the criminal to the long criminal justice process may even provide loopholes to evade punishments and give the opportunity to commit other crimes.

Crime control advocates hate the due process advocates for they are soft on crime, and they come to the aid of the offender, and they pin their hopes on a lousy, inept, slow, corrupt and iniquitous criminal justice system. President Duterte epitomizes this point of view in a paternalistic, colorful and endearing language.

Focus on legal guilt

The due process advocates also want to eradicate crime but want it done judiciously.

They emphasize the legal guilt of the criminal. If a suspect admitted his or her guilt, even if he or she is a drug user, they want him or her alive, for admission of guilt could be extracted under duress. They are willing to give the suspect the benefit of the doubt, for mistakes happen and the innocents are killed, which makes the society worse off. They are willing to subject the accused to due process, even if takes a while, so that the legal truth can be discerned, for it is only through established procedures can we gain confidence in the criminal justice system.

Due process advocates hate the crime control advocates for they encourage police abuses, the total disregard to the basic tenets of equal protection, due process and human rights, and the erosion of the hard-fought protections against the iniquities in the criminal justice system. The Commission on Human Rights and other rights defenders epitomize this point of view in a defiant, crusading and humanizing language.

Both are correct because they all want a society free of crime.

The crime control advocates are correct for they emphasize the perspective of crime victims and the moral need for justice. Deny this, and people will take matters into their own hands.

The due process advocates are correct for they emphasize the rule of law and the necessity of correct procedures. Deny this, and people become cynical and they take matters into their own hands. As such, the failure to understand the correctness of each other’s perspectives will end up with the same barbaric results.

Thus, both are wrong for they diminish each other's correctness.

Weakening the system

The crime control advocates are wrong for one cannot improve a lousy, inept, slow, corrupt and iniquitous criminal justice system by giving the police the grand power to serve as investigator, prosecutor, adjudicator, and executioner all at the same time. It will make the criminal justice system even weaker and prone to abuse. President Duterte is indeed a trustworthy president. But even he cannot control the ingrained corruption embedded in the system. It takes a system to reform the whole system.

The due process advocates are wrong for they cannot empathize with the victims of crime. They diminish the negative consequences of drugs and violence. And they are oblivious to the fact that the narratives of due process and human rights can be utilized as shields by the criminal and the corrupt to evade punishments. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is indeed a trustworthy institution. But even the CHR can sometimes be manipulated by cynical groups with an axe to grind against the political system.

So, can there be a happy compromise? Can we combine crime control and due process together? The answer is a resounding yes, if we open our eyes and suspend our myopic views.

We can control crime, drug use, corruption and terrorism the way Duterte imagines it: swift, severe, certain. We can deter future offenders by sending the message we mean business: you will be punished harshly. We can give emphasis to the sufferings of crime victims and make offenders fully accountable to their acts.

Integrated approach

And we can do this by fully observing the tenets of due process and human rights. We don't have to use shortcuts and give unlimited powers to the police. We can do this by a holistic integrated approach.

First, we need structural reforms by improving the number of qualified police, prosecutor, defense lawyer, judicial, jail, prison, probation and parole personnel, by improving their remuneration, and by alleviating their working environments.

Second, we need organizational reforms by improving police, court and correctional management, by introducing problem oriented policing, by introducing efficacy in court hearings, by introducing modern correctional treatment.

Third, we need cultural reforms by professionalizing our criminal justice personnel, by sensitizing them with concepts of integrity and accountability, by introducing gender sensitivity and cultural diversity.

There are many other ways to improve the criminal justice system. These have all been laid out by criminal justice advocates and developmental workers who had painstakingly studied and worked for the improvement of the system in the past 30 years. But they fell short due to the inherent elitism of the political system.

The popularity of President Duterte and the willingness of the Filipino people to embrace change can provide the right atmosphere for improving the criminal justice system.

Now, if only there's room for dialogue and compromise. –

Raymund Narag is a Filipino criminologist dedicated to the understanding of Filipino criminal behavior and to development of  appropriate responses to criminal acts. He currently teaches criminology in Southern Illinois University Carbondale.