Wednesday, July 23, 2014

American justice treats all criminal suspects equitably

Posted on April 22, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on April 22, 2013 at 7:50 p.m.

The story broke Monday morning that the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office declined to charge five Goshen teens arrested after a Goshen shooting.

The howls started shortly thereafter.

“These guys are laughing their ***** off at America’s ‘strict’ system of justice,” Chuck Bower wrote on Facebook.

Added Pam Miller, “Your (sic) kidding me!!!”

“Good God,” someone identified as FreeAmerican on elkharttruth.com. “What else can you figure would happen. This (sic) Goshen, aka ‘little Mexico’.’ Now it’s really not safe to be out and about in Goshen. No more first Friday’s (sic) for me.”

America’s justice system did not fail Monday. It prevailed. And instead of locking ourselves away, cowering in fear over an isolated event, we should be out in our communities showing that we won’t be cowed by violence.

Goshen police say a pair of vehicles pulled up at a house near Goshen and Middlebury streets the evening of April 14, and someone in one of the cars started shooting. The bullets wounded four teens, sending three to IU Health Goshen Hospital with minor injuries. Police arrested five teenagers, ranging from 15 to 19, the following night on preliminary charges including criminal gang activity, attempted battery with a deadly weapon and suspicion of attempted murder.

A judicial officer found probable cause to support the arrests, giving the prosecutor’s office 72 hours to decide if it would file formal charges.

The answer came in a Monday news release.

“Although probable cause was found which justified the detention of these individuals, the charging decision is one that requires a much higher level of scrutiny,” stated the news release from Curtis T. Hill Jr.’s office.

Prosecutors concluded, essentially, that the case had not been sufficiently developed to warrant charges — at least not yet. They asked police “to document facts and circumstances that had not yet been fully investigated.”

Give us that information, prosecutors said, and we’ll review the possibility of filing charges.

“Making an informed and reasonable decision is more important than making a quick decision,” the news release stated.

That “‘strict’ system of American justice” that generated such scorn treats all criminal suspects equitably, even if they’re teenagers with Hispanic surnames arrested on suspicion of acting as part of a gang. Prosecuting them on weak or inaccurate charges puts all of us at risk because it corrupts the fundamental right to a fair trial; if the courts can violate due process in this case, against these suspects, they can violate the rights of any defendant.

Hill chose to defend the integrity of our legal system. He also decided against building a case on insufficient evidence, which could not succeed.

Even though the suspects could soon be released from custody, if they aren’t already free, Hill did the right thing by defending the integrity of our criminal justice system and refusing to waste resources on an incomplete case. That should reassure the public, not enrage us.

No one died in the April 14 Goshen shooting. No one suffered serious injuries. But early Saturday, 24-year-old Matthew Bark died after a shooting on Toledo Road in Elkhart. So, by extension, does that mean people should forgo the Elkhart Jazz Festival this summer?

Of course not. And no one should avoid First Fridays because of what happened April 14 in Goshen, either.

If you’re truly worried about Goshen crime, make it a point to attend First Fridays. Show that it’s your community and you won’t be driven away.

The events two weeks ago in Goshen can’t begin to match the horror of the Boston Marathon bombings. Yet the brave people of Boston made it clear that they would not be intimidated by acts of violence.

Some people apparently missed the lesson.

Our criminal justice system works. We should be glad, not frightened, angry and disdainful.