A Time to Kill: Law and Empathy

How many times do criminals walk away exonerated? How many times are victims left without closure? How many times can justice be circumvented? When two racist white men brutally rape and dehumanize a ten-year-old girl, a devastated father seeks to avenge his daughter—and succeeds. A film where justice is not coextensive with the law, A Time to Kill relies heavily on empathy to take precedence in order to deliver true justice. This doesn’t come to fruition until a diligent lawyer uses a white jury’s limitations to his advantage, and effectively gets a black man acquitted of all charges—despite the overwhelming circumstances they both faced.

In a courtroom trial, the defendant is supposed to be accompanied by a fair jury of his peers. However, in A Time to Kill, Carl Lee Hailey (a black man) is pitted against a jury of twelve southern white folks in the year 1984. In spite of a jury being stacked against them, a young lawyer by the name of Jake Brigance has made it his mission to see Carl Lee is freed of all charges. Meanwhile, Brigance also contends with severe crises of his own: a marriage on the verge of collapse, as well as the constant threat of danger from the restless Ku Klux Klan. Can Jake rely on the law to deliver fair justice?

The law is thought to provide justice in a way that deals out a proper punishment to correspond to a committed crime; but, in order to create and ensure justice, the law needs to personify each case in its entirety rather than to try and dismiss empathy’s role in the decision making process of the jury. The law puts too much emphasis on cases being black-and-white, and this movie demonstrates that in more ways than one. When the law doesn’t take into account the gray areas, justice is evaded, and the real victims can be left feeling despondent and disparaged. It is important to realize that the criminal-victim roles that exist in court can actually be morally reversed. Such a realization results in a situation that requires more than an immalleable rule-based system to come to a verdict that not only maintains the integrity of the law, but also corresponds with the morale of the community.

One scene in the film displays the jury getting together for dinner. During this scene, they briefly unveil their opinions on the case prematurely, and the majority of the jurors raise their hand in favor of a guilty verdict that would send Carl Lee to his grave. The man at the head of the table follows up this vote by saying, “That niggers dead y’all.” This demonstrates the presence of intolerable racial bias that renders them blind to the honorable character Carl Lee possesses—a man that takes responsibility for his actions. A man that provides for his family, both emotionally and financially. A man that deserves a fair trial.

Further along in the film, a white policeman—whom was earlier caught in a crossfire between Carl Lee and the two white rapists—begins being cross-examined. The prosecutor assumes he would have spiteful feelings towards Carl Lee, being that he lost his leg in the altercation, but this proves to be amiss. Instead, he emotionally erupts and demonstrates great empathy for Carl Lee; referring to him as a “hero” (TK). While viewers of this scene might assume that such a powerful moment would have garnered some votes in favor of a not guilty verdict, this as well proves to be erroneous. As jurors got together for another dinner, another vote was cast that landed a full twelve of twelve in favor of a guilty verdict.

In the concluding scenes of the movie, Jake has one final chance to sway the jury in favor of Carl Lee with his closing statement, but he begins to realize even the most well-prepared and well-stated argument won’t be enough. His final approach becomes an appeal to pathos (emotion), as he politely asks the jury to close their eyes. What comes next is a surprisingly disconcerting experience for everyone (including himself), as he verbally reconstructs the rape of Carl Lee’s daughter. The jury begins to cry, and sympathetic sentiments begin to emerge.

Jake’s unfolding of the story vividly evokes utter sympathy in the hearts of the jury, yet something even more remarkable occurs when Jake Brigance changes the dynamic of the story and says, “Now imagine she’s white” (TK). By strategically changing the race of the victimized girl from presumably black, to white, Brigance illuminates the fact that race is playing a bigger role in their judgement than they might have realized. Sympathy then became replaced by empathy, and the jurors could finally peer into the soul of Carl Lee to see indefinitely why he was justified in his actions.  Paradoxically, by having the jury close their eyes, Jake was finally able to get them to see clearly. This is a phenomenon Martin Hoffman calls “perspective-taking.” In his work titled, “Empathy, Justice and the Law,” he says “By [using our] imagination[,] we place ourselves in the other’s situation, [and so] we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments…” This creates an effect on us that “converts the other’s situation into mental images that evoke the same feeling in oneself” (233). As Jake’s story progressed through each dark and twisted sequence, this phenomenon became more and more apparent. It was clear the jury wasn’t invested in this case before, but they certainly were now.

Jake’s appeal to pathos worked so well in this case because it targeted the innately human aspect of the court: empathy. Hoffman delineates two types of empathy, both of which are present in this scene: affective and cognitive. Affective empathy, which can be defined succinctly as “feeling what another feels,” and cognitive empathy, which means having an “awareness of another’s feelings” (230). The jury, through the vivid depiction of Tonya’s rape, began to experience affective empathy for her. Picturing a traumatized little girl—barely a decade into her life—having been heinously abused and unconscionably urinated on by two savages. They also began to realize that this young girl—a man’s daughter—belonged to the very same man that was on trial for taking justice into his own hands. And so, the emergence of cognitive empathy occurs. How could a jury convict a man who has gone through so much pain? How could a jury convict a man that only did what other fathers would have done for their own daughter? To do so would result in an “empathic feeling of injustice” (237). What that simply means is the jury could no longer see Carl Lee as deserving of the punishment he was on trial for.

Finally, the trial was no longer about color; it was about a father having sought justice for his brutally raped daughter. Therefore, it is clear that it wasn’t until after Jake elicited sympathetic and empathetic emotions during his closing argument, the black-and-white circumstance from the law’s perspective started to look a whole lot grayer and the idea of justice had changed. Some people might have said Jake Brigance manipulated the jury, but I don’t believe this is so. He simply showed them the light, and they just finally decided to walk toward it. Empathy served as guiding platform for the jury to make the appropriate corrections in their judgement, which in turn allowed for Carl Lee Hailey, a good man, to be found “Innocent” (TK). An outcome that could not have occurred without the introduction of empathy. Nevertheless, in this trial, true justice was delivered.


Works Cited

A Time to Kill. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Warner Brothers, 1996.

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, justice, and the law.” Empathy: Philosophical and psychological perspectives., Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2014.

Justice Prevailed!

What does it mean to receive justice? Is justice always the same for everyone? How big of a role should our emotion play when making decisions as a juror? In the case of Carl Lee Hailey in the popular 1996 film A Time to Kill, I cannot help but ask myself these questions. In the film, Carl Lee, a black man, shoots and kills the two white men who raped his ten-year-old daughter Tonya inside the courthouse as they were headed to their preliminary hearing. Carl Lee is found not guilty by the jury when his own case hits the courthouse, even though many witnessed the event and he and his lawyer, Jake Brigance, decided to use the insanity plea, which according to the film only works a small percentage of the time (TK). I believe this unexpected decision by the jurors was due to the invocation of empathy by Jake Brigance in his closing argument (see below) and I think he did exactly what had to be done to promote justice in this case and more importantly, in the world outside of this case. I will first argue for why I believe justice was served in A Time to Kill and I will follow with why I believe empathy leads to the most just decision in the case of Carl Lee Hailey.

INSERT VIDEO HERE (need help figuring out how to do this…)

Justice, could be taken as synonymous with fairness, is what we strive to base our United States legal system on. However, our legal system is not perfect and there are many crucial aspects to making a just decision. In a matter of fact sense, Carl Lee Hailey did shoot and kill two men in A Time to Kill. There was no denial of this fact just as there was no denial of the fact that the two men he killed brutally raped his daughter Tonya. The time period portrayed in the film was home to an unjust legal system that was prejudice towards black people and Carl Lee Hailey knew that. Uncertain that the men who raped his daughter would face any punishment at all, he sought justice for his daughter himself and succeeded. He felt that the only way to get justice was this way and although death is the harshest punishment of all, Carl Lee Hailey wanted to be sure these men would never be able to commit such atrocities again. He plead insanity, but what he did was logical and just not only for his own family, but the entire community. If Carl Lee Hailey were to have come across these men in action and shot them to protect Tonya in the moment, there would be no question as to whether or not what he did was justified. When he came to trial for this action, he knew that the legal system remained unchanged and he and his lawyer did all that they could to preserve justice while working within the current system.


Jake Brigance used the power of empathy to persuade the jurors in the case of Carl Lee. With the odds stacked up against him, he knew an appeal to pathos, or emotion, would be the strongest way to persuade them to free Carl Lee. The entire legal process revolves around empathy, from picking jurors that can easily empathize with the defendant to using the most compelling arguments to persuade jurors to see things the defendant’s way. According to Martin L. Hoffman in his work Empathy, Justice, and the Law, empathy is inherent in us as human beings and therefore its involvement in law is unavoidable (238). Defining empathy can get confusing, but when I speak of the involvement of empathy in A Time to Kill, I speak of Hoffman’s definition of affective empathy: “an emotional state triggered by another’s emotional state or situation, in which one feels what the other feels or may normally be expected to feel in his or her situation.” (231). Hoffman points out that there are problems with using empathy in law, such as inherent biases, and he believes a possible solution would be better training in recognizing these biases and working to minimize their effects, but I believe that empathy will always include biases and situations must be shown in the right light to reveal justice, as Jake Brigance succeeded in with his closing argument (254). The jurors could not put themselves in Carl Lee Hailey’s shoes prior to Jake’s vivid description of Tonya’s attack and closing words “now imagine she’s white” (TK). The jurors were there throughout the case and the evidence was not compelling enough to believe Carl Lee Hailey was insane and did not know what he was doing was wrong under the law. They instead needed light shown on the idea that the law is not perfect and justice would prevail only by freeing Carl Lee, which is exactly where empathy came into play. The jurors had to look beyond the strictness of law and beyond this case alone to see that justice would prevail only by allowing Carl Lee Hailey’s actions to go unpunished. This single decision, guided by the invocation of empathy, preserved justice in the Hailey family and in the entire community.

Beyond this case, the world was changed and it was apparent that following the law is not the only way to preserve justice. With race riots and protesting going on right outside the courthouse, this decision showed that we are all human and must be able to see things from each other’s perspectives, regardless of our race. Justice is a goal that has to be created through social interaction and to get society on Carl Lee Hailey’s side, Jake Brigance used the most powerful tool- empathy. This was not wrong or unjust at all; it was actually the most just thing that could have been done at the time. The unjust legal system of the time would go on to change and become just for everyone instead of remaining prejudiced. Our legal system will never be perfect, but at least there will always be a way to promote progress towards justice, and that, as we have seen, is through the invocation of empathy.

Works Cited

Hoffman, Martin L. “14 Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. N.p.: n.p., 2011. 230+. Oxford Scholarship, Jan. 2012. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Warner Bros., 1996. Web (Blackboard). 25 Sept. 2016.

Formal Assignment #1- Empathy vs. Justice

According to Martin L. Hoffman’s Empathy, Justice, and the Law, empathy, or more specifically affective empathy is “an emotional state triggered by another’s emotional state or situation, in which one feels what the other feels…” (231). In A Time to Kill, Jake Brigance clearly invokes this genuine emotion in the members of the court and jury during his closing speech based on the brutal raping of Tonya Hailey. The jury is able to really empathize with Carl Lee Hailey and as a result, they rule Hailey not guilty of murdering two men that he killed in retaliation for the rape of his daughter. This brings up the question of whether justice was served with this decision or if the jury took the empathy they felt too far and the just decision was masked. Justice is served when the lawful decision is made, and while in some cases empathy can trump justice (Hoffman 238), justice was not served in Carl Lee Hailey’s trial in A Time to Kill singlehandedly because of the empathy people felt for him.


Before Jake Brigance’s closing speech, the jury was overwhelmingly in favor of convicting Carl Lee Hailey of his murder of two men. There was never more than one person in favor of acquitting Carl Lee Hailey in either of the jury’s preliminary votes. There was also sufficient evidence to support this claim, including the fact that the only person the defence could bring up to support the idea that Hailey was insane at the time of the murder was himself convicted of statutory rape years before this trial. Also, most convincingly, Hailey exclaimed that the two men who raped Tonya should “burn in hell” (TK). In saying this, Carl Lee Hailey is unknowingly bringing death upon himself for killing two people, which is far worse than raping a girl. The only piece of evidence that was beneficial for the defense before Brigance’s closing speech was the testimony of the Deputy Looney, the man that Carl Lee accidentally shot and severely injured.


While Looney acknowledges the fact that Carl Lee did not at all intend to shot him and that Carl Lee apologized for shooting him in this positive testimony, Deputy Looney does not sugar coat the fact that Carl Lee shot the two men. Since justice is determined by what is lawfully right, Carl Lee Hailey should have been convicted of the murder of two men.  The ruling that for the court case basically concludes that it is worse to rape someone than it is to kill someone. If someone were to say that justice was achieved would be saying that the men deserved to die for raping Tonya and Carl Lee deserved to have the opportunity to kill two people without repercussion, then something simply does not add up. With the risk that blacks would not have been treated equally had Carl Lee Hailey been convicted, it could be argued that an overcompensation occurred. While this could be the case, there is also evidence that the members of the jury were not considering race in their decision to ultimately acquit Hailey. This is especially apparent during the closing speech.


When Jake Brigance is painting the picture of the rape that Tonya Hailey, he never says he is referencing Tonya. This leaves a lot of interpretation for the audience as to who he is referencing. Seen by the fact that many of the members of the jury cried during the speech, they could have been visualizing their own white children instead of Tonya. If this were the case, when Brigance says “now imagine she’s white” (TK), this could almost serve as a slap in the face because Brigance is calling the jury out for judging Carl Lee Hailey for being black. This could be a far fetched theory, but given the jury’s reaction to the speech, it is a serious possibility.


After hearing this speech, the members of the jury are visibly shocked and their perception of the case has been completely altered. This alteration was caused entirely by the empathy that Jake Brigance invoked upon the members of the jury. There was nothing in terms of the legality of the act that was impacted by Brigance’s closing speech. Jake Brigance’s speech does a fantastic job of promoting empathy in the audience and more importantly for the case, in the jurors. This empathy that the audience feels is completely genuine, as the members of the jury and others in the audience are in tears. Even though there was nothing that changed legally, Jake Brigance’s speech singlehandedly reversed the verdict of the case. Since justice can only be determined by the law, empathy clearly masks the just decision for Carl Lee Hailey. As much as this a powerful ruling for the black community, the ruling does not promote justice.
This phenomenon of someone getting away with a crime because the jury empathized too much with the defense has been seen in other real cases where empathy masked justice. In Empathy, Justice, and the Law, a few of these cases are presented. In 1997, a British nanny in Boston shook a baby to death and justly charged with murder. After the trial that convicted the nanny, many people expressed a serious concern for the baby’s parents, and these people empathized with the parents. The judge felt these emotions too and as a result, the charge was reduced and then after another trial, the charge was dropped altogether and the nanny was completely set free despite killing a baby (252). While this is a far worse case of empathy creates injustice, it does greatly compare to the Carl Lee Hailey trial in that despite killing someone or multiple people, the defendant was acquitted. There is a fine line between what is just in legal terms and what is morally just, but in most cases, if something is legally unjust, then it is unjust altogether. The bottom line is that Carl Lee Hailey killed two young men and he should not simply get away with it even though those men did a terrible thing to Tonya. Empathy can serve as a great medium to determine justice in cases where the truth is being overlooked, but when a man can get away with killing two men without consequence, empathy is masking justice rather than serving it.

Works Cited:

Hoffman, Martin L.”Empathy, Justice and the Law”. Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives.Ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2011. 230-54. Print.

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson and Sandra Bullock. Warner Bros, 1996. Web. 20 Sept. 2016

A Time to Kill – does empathy promote justice?

The themes of empathy and justice are a central component of Joel Schumacher’s A Time to Kill. In this note I take empathy to be the “awareness of another’s feelings” or “feeling what another feels” (Hoffman 230) and understand justice to be the notion of fair treatment, that everyone should get what they deserve. I will explore the relationship between these two in the film. A Time to Kill tells the story of the prosecution of a black man, Carl Lee, who killed the two men who raped his 10-year-old daughter. His motive was the belief that the black community could not get a fair trial in the South at the time. Carl Lee states, “how a black man ever going to get a fair trial, with the enemy on the bench in the jury box. My life in white hands?” (TK). In his trial, Carl Lee justifiably feels as though he is both the victim and the accused. The fight for justice in this film goes beyond what is found in the law. In my view, this film powerfully portrays how law and justice are not necessarily co-extensive. The law is a set of rules made by society, and when the film was set societal norms were not ‘just’, Tonya and Carl Lee did not live in a “fair” society. It is for this reason that I would argue that empathy did promote justice because justice could not be found in the law in A Time to Kill.

This blog post is going to look at whether or not the ultimate verdict arrived at by the jury, acquitting Carl Lee, was an act of justice, consequently: since this decision was arrived at primarily by empathizing with the accused, reflecting on the role empathy played in either promoting or obstructing justice. To achieve this, I am going to look at tools used to invoke and portray empathy, as well as their effects, throughout the trial, then move onto looking at whether or not Carl Lee’s acquittal was an act of justice.

Firstly, let us consider the effect of empathy invoked in characters (mainly the jury) as well as the audience to create a platform for the discussion of whether or not empathy promoted or obstructed justice. To begin with, let us consider Carl Lee’s direct examination. In this scene, the camera is placed at a constant distance that centers Carl Lee’s face on the screen at all times as he explains how he felt. Having the frame only on Carl Lee’s face detaches him from the rest of the cast, which reflects his feeling of loneliness, isolation, and helplessness, which happen to be the same feelings his daughter experienced. This aids in invoking empathy because helplessness and loneliness are emotions everyone can relate to. In addition to this, the camera circles Carl Lee, a technique which is referred to as an “Arc shot” (Arc shot, mediacollege.com). Circling Carl Lee with extremely close range creates this impression that the viewer is getting insight on what is happening in Carl Lee’s mind as he speaks, which makes the viewer feel as though they have a deeper understanding of his innermost thoughts and feelings as he relays them to the courthouse. This invokes empathy because it enables the reader to appreciate what he was feeling, creating the sense of awareness and ultimately making it easier to feel what he felt. Furthermore, Carl Lee uses emotive language as well as an anecdote to invoke empathy in the jury. Carl Lee speaks about how he as Tonya’s father could not protect or help her at that moment, which is considered to be the role of a father. He talks about how all he could hear was his daughter say, “I called for you daddy. When them men was hurting me. I called for you, over and over. But you didn’t never come” (TK). This scene invokes empathy for both Tonya and Carl Lee. It should be noted that the only question used by the defense was, “How did you feel”, indicating that their whole case was based on getting the jurors to understand his emotions.

Furthermore, Carl Lee’s attorney, Jake, explicitly states that to win the case “the jury needs to identify with the defendant”, and to create this link of identification Jake used empathy in his closing statement (TK). It is also important to note that before Jake’s closing statement the jurors had all decided that Carl Lee was guilty, so given that he was acquitted, we can safely infer that the case was won by Jake’s closing statement. Jake uses ethos and pathos to appeal to the jury in his last address to the court, he too uses an anecdote to vividly describe what Tonya went through to invoke empathy in the jury. He speaks about how her innocence and purity was violated. He also uses literary features such as groups of three to emphasize the trauma and the pain she went through. When describing her body, he states that it was, “raped, beaten and broken” in addition to this he says it was “soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen and soaked in her blood” (TK). The technique Jake used to deliver his statement is also critical in evaluating its effectiveness. He speaks extremely slow to make sure that he gives the jury enough time to not only hear what he says but internalize it too. Lastly, there is the use of discontinuous movement in the scene, the frame moves from Jake’s face to the jury and then to the Hailey family. This increases empathy in the audience because it allows the audience to see the people who were directly affected by what happened to Tonya as Jake relays it. As illustrated above this closing argument invoked an “empathic feeling of injustice”, the preference for equity, to communicate that Carl Lee deserves to be acquitted (Hoffman 238).

It could be argued that the immense use of pathos compromised the jury’s ability to use “rational emotions”, emotions we can trust in the law (Nussbaum 72), inhibiting them from being “judicious spectators”. According to Nussbaum a “judicious spectator” is not only able to use rational emotions but also has the ability to “care” for both the victim and the accused in a trial. A “judicious spectator” is an individual who is able to “vividly” imagine what it is like to be both parties in the trial, which is what him/her an ideal juror (73). However, I want us to consider the possibility that the jurors in the film were not judicious spectators until empathy was invoked in them. Evidence in the film leads us to believe that the jurors did not care for Carl Lee. In the beginning of the trial, one of the jurors refers to the fact that he has to go back to his family, implying that he does not regard Carl Lee’s life as important or deserving of his time. Furthermore, this vocal juror states, “that nigger is dead” after he initiated an informal vote before the end of the trial. This indicates that he had a preconceived verdict, further emphasizing his disregard for Carl Lee (TK). The use of pathos in Jake’s statement, “now imagine she’s white”, essentially assisted the jurors to be judicious spectators, allowing them to care for Carl Lee and appreciate what it is his family went through as well as consider the lives of the two boys who were killed. This statement allowed the jurors to empathize with Carl Lee possibly for the first time in the trial. Which is why I strongly believe that empathy promoted justice in the film A Time to Kill. Without empathy, the jurors were not going to be “judicious spectators” and ultimately acquit Carl Lee.

Work Cited
Hoffman, Martin L.”Empathy, Justice and the Law”. Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives.Ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2011. 230-54. Print.
(2011). pp 230-254. Print

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson and Sandra Bullock. Warner Bros, 1996. Web. 20 Sept. 2016

Arc Shot. Arc Shot. N.p., n.d. Web. www.mediacollege.com/video/shots/arc.html 24 Sept. 2016

Nussbaum, Martha. “Rational Emotions.” Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. 53-78. Print.

Formal Assignment 1

The relationship between empathy and justice is complicated, and it only becomes more complex when introduced to the law, as demonstrated in the film A Time to Kill as the audience follows the story of Carl Lee Hailey’s journey to freedom. I believe that throughout the movie, it is shown that empathy does indeed promote justice, particularly in the courtroom, as seen in Carl Lee’s case. His defense of his daughter exemplifies serving justice to the white men, and Jake Brigance’s closing argument evoked empathy from the jurors in their decision to free Carl Lee, thus giving him the justice he deserved.

Before I defend this, it is important to first understand what all of these words mean. Generally, the term “justice” means fairness, and getting what you deserve, whatever that may mean. Justice is a means to make things right, per se, which can come in many different forms. Justice for Carl Lee meant avenging his daughter and murdering the two men that raped her. Justice for Jake meant proving to the jurors that Carl Lee did not deserve to be punished for his crimes. Finally, justice for the jury meant ensuring that Carl Lee got what he deserved. The idea of “what he deserved” is controversial because of the ethics surrounding his crime. It is up to the jurors to decide whether the murder was justified. Another key word in this discussion is empathy, which Martin Hoffman divides into two separate terms: cognitive empathy, or the awareness of someone else’s feelings, and affective empathy, or feeling what someone else feels (230). He gives an example of how the two are connected when a juror imagines how a victim feels (cognitive empathy), which triggers a mental image of their situation and the associated feelings, resulting in affective empathy (Hoffman 231). Empathy strikes feelings in people that connect them to others and result in a thorough understanding of the situation. Related to this is the idea of a judicious spectator, who is someone that accepts the importance of empathy in their decision-making but does not allow it to control them (Nussbaum, 73). They are unbiased in that they consider all facts of the situation, but they let themselves relate to the victim and use that to their advantage. A Time to Kill creates two different versions of a judicious spectator. One of these is the actual jury members, who have a limited view of what goes on outside of the testimonies and are thus less biased towards personal character. They do not see Carl Lee with his family, or the drunken men throwing beer bottles. They only see what occurs in the courtroom, which is both limiting and freeing. They have only the facts, which allow them to make the wisest decision regarding the injustices that take place. The second type of judicious spectator is the audience, which we know to have a much wider view of characters and backgrounds. This, again, is both limiting and freeing. We have a greater understanding of why those men deserved to be murdered, but this also creates prejudice. We have ingrained hatred for the men who committed such a foul act to such a young girl, so we despise them. We know this is what they deserve, but only because we can see the whole story. Both types of the judicious spectators allow for conflicting views on what justice means.

In considering the empathy portrayed in the film, we need to come back to how empathy itself influences the role of the members of the jury in acquitting Carl Lee. An example very similar to Hoffman’s was in Jake’s closing argument. Here we see one of the jurors crying as Jake illustrates Tonya’s tragedy. Others had similar reactions, whereas others were horrified.


The jurors then follow the emotions that Tonya Hailey, the true victim, feels as she is assaulted and violated by the two men. This strikes both cognitive and affective empathy in the jury as they become aware of how she was abused, and they feel as if they were experiencing it themselves. It’s also possible that some jurors with a family pictured this gruesome occasion happening to their own children. They empathize with Tonya, a helpless child, so the consequence is that they transfer their empathy to Carl Lee, a man who did what they felt was right in that situation. They were swayed to temporarily allow their barriers down and make a decision that opposes the racial standards of the time, partially because of Jake’s final statement, “Now imagine she’s white” (TK). Their empathy is broadened when they found themselves sympathizing with a black girl and her father. This final line is what makes them aware of the racial difference in treatment. This encourages them to support the black child, because they empathize with Carl Lee and imagine it happening to white children. However, this distracted them from the real issue when they came to vote on the innocence of the plaintiff. Their empathy blinded them to the true issue in the case (Carl Lee’s plea of insanity during his murder of the men) and they made a purely emotional decision. But because of the justification for his action, Carl Lee deserved this empathy from the jurors and the other audience members. Even though what he did was illegal and considered wrong in the law, it was morally the right thing to do to defend his daughter, so his judgement of “innocent” served justice for him (TK).

Furthermore, Carl Lee’s act of violence in killing the men, Pete and Billy Ray, is a demonstration of justice for the horrific incident involving his daughter. The beginning of the film shows her being abused, raped, beaten, almost hung, and then discarded in the river. This was after we see the men driving through the black part of town, extremely intoxicated, throwing bottles on houses and mocking the community. It is assumed that they are people with poor morals and no conscience, as they try to wreak havoc with a lack of concern for consequences. The audience has a premature idea of who these people are, so it is a joy rather than a tragedy when they are murdered. This coincides with the concept of justice- they deserved their fate because of their actions earlier in the movie. While the audience’s feelings do not influence events in the film, it is important to mention them because it confirms how the characters are portrayed and how their relationships are perceived. Within the film, many characters display empathy after Tonya’s rape, Carl Lee included. His empathy takes the form of aggression because of his passion and love for his daughter, and this results in his attack on the men in the courthouse. This was extended empathy and violence, because he forewarned Jake about his plan to take the law into his own hands in the fear that the judicial system would not uphold the law themselves. He empathizes for his daughter and the tragedy she had to endure, so he refuses to allow that crime to go unpunished. In this situation, the empathy exhibited leads to justice for Tonya in the murder of the white men.

Throughout the film, there are many more minor instances of empathy, such as the scene in the jail cell before the closing statements, the scene after Jake’s house has been burned down, and Ellen’s numerous attempts to help Jake with the case before he actually allows it. These small occurrences lead up to the success in the end with Carl Lee’s acquittal. Individually, their influence is small, but combined throughout the movie, they are very influential in sparking empathy in the viewers. The audience empathizes for the protagonists and silently cheers them on. Inside the plot line, the empathy that characters express encourages their participation in the case and anything they can do to help. The specific, major instances- the act of murder and the acquittal- truly demonstrate how empathy promotes justice for the victim, Tonya, and her family. Carl Lee consequently receives justice because of the ethical implications of his crime. In addition, Jake brings out the empathy in the jurors in his final speech in order to sway their vote to setting Carl Lee free. The uses of empathy displayed throughout the film are what ultimately leads to justice for all.

Works Cited:

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson. Warner Bros., 1996. Film.

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2011. 230-54. Print.

Nussbaum, Martha. “Rational Emotions.” Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and               Public Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. 53-78. Print/Web.

Formal Assignment 1: Empathy and Justice in “A Time to Kill”

Empathy can greatly sway the decision of a jury. In A Time to Kill it was the deciding factor in the case against Carl Lee Hailey. The entire jury had decided to vote guilty until they heard Jake Brigance’s closing statement depicting the entirety of the horror that happened to Tonya Hailey. This statement invoked empathy in them that they had not previously felt because they could not relate with a black man. Once they knew what had motivated Carl Lee and how out of his mind with rage he had been, they changed their minds and delivered a verdict of not guilty. When they saw the whole situation they knew that it would not be justice to convict Carl Lee of murder. In this case the invocation of empathy led to justice.

Empathy is a term that is not always defined clearly. Hoffman defines empathy as “an emotional state triggered by another’s emotional state or situation, in which one feels what the other feels or may normally be expected to feel in his or her situation” (231). One part of empathy that Hoffman describes is perspective taking – when people put themselves in another persons situation and feel what they felt (233). In A Time to Kill this caused a large problem in invoking empathy in the jury. Since Carl Lee was a black man, the all white jury had difficulty relating to him and could not put themselves in his situation (until Jake Brigance’s closing statement of course). This also brings forth Hoffman’s briefly mentioned point of “race bias” in the jury (251). During A Time to Kill a great emphasis was placed on the selection of the jury. Jake Brigance had said that with the right jury they would win the case and with the wrong one they would lose. He was banking on getting young fathers in the jury in the hopes that they would empathize with Carl Lee’s situation (TK). However, the jury selection process did not go in the way Jake had hoped. The jury was predominately made up of women and older men which would make it hard for them to take Carl Lee’s perspective. The jury was also all white leading to a great likelihood of race bias. There were many factors working against the jury feeling empathy for Carl Lee in this case.

Empathy is a widely debated subject in court cases because it can cause a jury to see emotion more than facts. It is generally believed that emotion can greatly influence a judicial decision. In court cases victim impact statements are often given to demonstrate the “full reality of human suffering that the defendant has produced” (Hoffman 253). In the case of Carl Lee Hailey a kind of victim impact statement was used, though not the kind Hoffman had had in mind. The impact statement here was made by the defendant’s attorney and was used to demonstrate the “full realty of human suffering” that the prosecution had produced, causing Carl Lee’s moment of insanity when he killed the two men (Hoffman 253). This statement had a very profound effect on the jury. Earlier in A Time to Kill, during the illegal early votes, the entire jury had decided to convict Carl Lee. After hearing Jake Brigance’s vivid depiction of Tonya’s rape the jury felt empathy for Carl Lee. When Jake ended his statement with “Now imagine she’s white” the jury was able to invoke Hoffman’s perspective taking and put themselves in Carl Lee’s situation (TK) (233). After this statement, the jury changed their decision to not guilty. The empathy invoked on this jury was the deciding factor in this case.

There is a concept discussed by Martha Nussbaum called the judicious spectator. It is a theoretically perfect juror with no bias but also not feeling too much for one party (Nussbaum 75). The jurors in this case could not be judicious spectators. They were racially biased and could not relate with the defendant. They later felt too much empathy for the defendant, becoming more emotionally involved than a judicious spectator should be. The jury was crying during Jake’s closing statement, and then afterwards changed their decisions to not guilty, showing the effect this statement had on their empathy (TK). No judicious spectator existed in the jury presiding in Carl Lee’s case. However, this empathy that the jury felt is what lead them to acquit Carl Lee. They should have acquitted him based on their belief of the insanity. They reached the right conclusion but for the wrong reasons, and the only reason they reached this conclusion was that they were not judicious spectators.

The empathy that the jurors based their decision on was not felt by them in the beginning of this case. This empathy was encouraged by Jake through his very emotional closing statement. However, this empathy did rely on the limitations of the white jury. Jake had to end the statement with “Now imagine she’s white” (TK). This allowed the jurors to imagine what it would have been like if this situation had happened to their daughter or other female family member. Though this empathy was limited due to the white jury, it was still genuine empathy. It does not matter whether empathy is limited or not when it comes to an acquittal, except that it is often harder to invoke enough empathy in people with a limited scope.

It is obvious that empathy was what determined the outcome of this case, but did it promote justice? The question now is whether, when looking at the facts, Carl Lee was guilty of murder. Carl Lee pleaded not guilty on the grounds of insanity (TK). Both of the men who testified to whether Carl Lee was insane were discredited in the courtroom. The man who said Carl Lee was sane had never in court called a man insane. He was reaping benefits by later taking these “not insane” people into his mental hospital. The man who said that Carl Lee was insane was discredited because he had been convicted of the crime of statutory rape (though it was later revealed that he this woman became his wife and they were still married) (TK). Due to the conflicting arguments of the psychiatrists, it is up to the viewer to review the evidence for insanity. The argument of insanity is based on whether the defendant could tell right from wrong during the time of the incident. This is known as the M’Naghten Rule. Carl Lee was blinded by rage causing his distinction of right and wrong to be distorted. In the M’Naghten rule a stipulation is: “If he did know [what he was doing], that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.” (MR). When badgered by the prosecution about whether the rapists deserved to die, he exclaimed “Yes, they deserved to die and I hope they burn in Hell!” (TK). The fact that he thought they deserved to die shows that he did not morally know right from wrong. Carl Lee knew exactly what he was doing (as this was premeditated), but he did not know that it was wrong, making him insane in the case of the M’Naghten Rule.

In the ruling of not guilty in the case of Carl Lee, justice was served and empathy helped facilitate that justice. Regardless of Carl Lee’s guilt, his acquittal would have served justice. The two men who raped his daughter “if convicted may have been free in only ten years” (TK). This is not an equal punishment for the crime, and many people agreed with what Carl Lee had done. The officer who Carl Lee accidentally shot said that if someone had done that to his daughter he would have “[blown] him away just like Carl Lee did” (TK). When asked if Carl Lee was guilty he said “Turn him loose!” (TK). The mindset of many people was that Carl Lee did not deserve to be punished for killing the two men who raped his daughter, that would have been released from jail in only ten years. Justice was served and it was coextensive with the law due to Carl Lee being found not guilty on the grounds of insanity.

Works Cited:

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson. Warner Bros., 1996. Film. 

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2011. 230-54. Print.

Nussbaum, Martha. “Rational Emotions.” Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. 53-78. Print

“The M’Naghten Rule.” FindLaw. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2016. <http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-procedure/the-m-naghten-rule.html>.

Formal Assignment 1

First, there are sins, then there are laws. Sin regenerates with flexible appearances, as justice seconds the trait. Although meant to serve its people, law codes contain a major flaw: it is apathetic and rigid, nothing human.  Which is why the written laws alone cannot represent justice unless there’s also an input of contemporary and appropriate empathy. The definition of justice is ever changing. In order to carry out justice in court, the jurors must present “judicial empathy” (EJL), which stands for comprehensive, unbiased, and appropriate (empathize with all perspectives but not especially emotionally attached to any) empathy. In the movie A time to Kill, the Jurors are influenced by various factors including the commotion outside of the court, the words of witnesses, and the performance of the lawyers. All of which infests bias within the jurors, harming their ability to see from every possible perspective and act as a “judicious spectator”.

As the movie progresses, the jurors are presented with voluminous information for them to debate whether if Carl Lee’s killing is justified. They are ordinary citizens, who can see nothing deeper than rumors and Carl Lee’s skin before the trial started. While the viewer sees a bit more through his responses to his daughter’s tragic. Both the viewers of and the jurors in the movie are attaining Carl Lee’s side of the story far more than seeing the two supremacists’ (Nicky Katt and Doug Hutchison) (TK).  Moreover, the Jurors’ decisions depends chiefly upon how much they sympathize with the words coming from each attorneys’ mouth, and perhaps feel more empathy of one of the sides. Leaving the trial’s audiences to be more likely to stand with Carl Lee. First, there are hundreds of African Americans yelling outside of the court for Carl Lee to be free. Second, Deputy Dwayne Looney confesses that he cannot blame Carl Lee for his lost leg and believes he would have done what Carl Lee did if he was at the same situation. Third, Jake’s profound closing statement allow the Jurors to feel what Carl Lee was feeling when he saw what happened to his daughter (TK).%e5%b1%8f%e5%b9%95%e6%88%aa%e5%9b%be-2016-09-25-16-46-01

There are barely any stories from the supremacists’ side except for Billy Ray Cobb’s mother Cora Mae Cobb’s tears, which only had a brief appearance comparing to any other witnesses’ speech defending for Carl Lee’s actions (TK).  The also hint about the insufficiency in both stories by inputting Dr.Willard Tyrrel Bass’ experience. Where he was convicted statutory rape, where the victim become his current wife (TK). Both the viewer and jurors lack the essential information necessary to make a fair judgment. For all who believe that they are able to decipher whether if Carl Lee should be Guilty or not is not acting as a “judicious spectator” (RE) – “whose judgments and responses are intended to provide a paradigm of public rationality. Like what Jake recommended, most jurors have thought with their hearts but little analytics.%e5%b1%8f%e5%b9%95%e6%88%aa%e5%9b%be-2016-09-26-13-17-39

There is redundant “empathetic bias” mounted in the court, which is triggered by Jake’s speech ever so similar to a “victim-impacted statement” (EJL). When the jurors have to close their eyes and ingest a riveting experience of a little girl being abused, their empathy will arouse easily. The jurors will feel emotionally pressured to stand up for the Tonya, while losing focus on the actual case – the murder. Sarcastically, Jake, who the jurors based upon for their vote, have only heard the story from Carl Lee (JK). While Carl Lee carries a great amount of emotional color as he is telling about the tragic event. When Jake himself is affected by emotions and biased, who is really trustworthy on the court? Even the viewers only see the film majority from Jake’s point of view, which is not the primary document anymore. Meanwhile, the adversities that Jake, his family and his friends face are producing an “empathic feeling of injustice” (EJL) for the viewers. Jake didn’t commit any crime, yet his personal life is threatened by KKK as he fights for Carl Lee’s case. Instinctively, seeing someone “punished for more than he deserves” (EJL), most film audiences’ empathetic anger would lead them to trust the victim and desire the victim to achieve what he/she is struggling for; in this situation – for Carl Lee to win his case.

A “Judicious spectator” (RE) not only would realize there is a lack of information, he/she would also pull back and think in a bigger picture: “What would happen if Carl Lee wins his case?”, “Who else did Carl Lee harm when he murdered the men?” The fact is, Carl Lee set his own family at stake when he decided to commit the murder, knowingly. He knows they are incapable of supporting themselves, and he knows he might die. He begged/manipulated Jake to save him because he is ready to murder, but not ready to accept the consequence. He is not a follower of justice himself, despite his verbal pity for his victims’ parents(TK). Carl Lee would also be responsible the image he projects for his two growing boys. Carl Lee, as a role model for his two boys to look up to, used violence as the resort to attain the “justice” in his mind. When he is announced “innocent” (TK), what would the two young boys consider to be “right” or “just”? These are just a few examples of where. The jurors might be “too empathetic” to think about a bigger picture. Not to mention that Carl Lee plea for not guilty because he was “insane”, which can’t be proven.

In the film A Time to Kill, although Carl Lee’s case seems to be justice’s advocate in terms that the jurors look pass race to make their decision, any shuffle in perspective would suggest that the case is not black and white – the viewers don’t have enough information to judge whether if justice is served, or if empathy is placed in the appropriate place. Not many thought of Nicky Katt and Doug Hutchison’s parents or hear from their perspective. Without hearing them out, no one can name the resolution justice. The amount of distracting factors leads the jurors on to prejudice while concerning that they are definitely for justice. The film didn’t exist for its audience to say who is right or who is wrong, it is there to say no one is perfectly right. It comes to a perfect circle: Nicky Katt and Doug Hutchison spits at the African Americans in the beginning of the film, and the African American protestors spit at the KKK at the end of the film.


Works Cited:

“A Time to Kill,” Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Spacey, Brenda Fricker, Oliver Platt. 1996.http://digitalcampus.swankmp.net/rochester274683/watch?token=6b856fd35ec9027d47a2ccbe87d8e5843937de4304f92e7d4c5743a463e11163.

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and Law.” https://learn.rochester.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-727601-dt-content-rid-1890782_1/courses/wrt105.2016fall.41376/hoffman_empathyjusticelaw.pdf.

Nussbaum, Matha. “Rational Emotions.” https://learn.rochester.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-731489-dt-content-rid-1904680_1/courses/wrt105.2016fall.41376/nussbaum_rationalemotions.pdf.

Formal Assignment 1: The Relationship Between Empathy and Justice

The film A Time to Kill is set in the Southern United States during the 1980’s. The movie revolves around Carl Lee Hailey who is on trial for killing the two men who raped his daughter. The film examines race relations in the South during the 1980’s and how empathy plays a role in the American justice system. The term justice is an interesting term when looking at its role in the film. Justice tends to be looked at in one of two ways. First, through the court system, as in if someone committed a crime and they get convicted, that is justice. Second, through the idea of poetic justice, where each person gets the punishment that they deserve based on their actions. A Time to Kill uses empathy to promote poetic justice when justice through the law cannot be served equally to all people in a society.

Important to understanding empathy promoting justice in the film, Martin Hoffman describes various forms of “empathic arousal,” or ways in which people feel empathy (Hoffman, 232). The two main types of empathic arousal that are important to understand for this film are verbally mediated association and perspective-taking. Hoffman describes verbally mediated association as when “another’s distress is communicated and connected to one’s own painful past experience through the medium of language…” (232). Where as perspective-taking is how “people are constituted similarly and have similar life experiences, imagining oneself in another’s place converts the other’s situation into mental images that evoke the same feeling in oneself,” (qtd. in Hoffman, 233). The film utilizes both of these forms of empathic arousal in looking at the case of Carl Lee Hailey.


Perspective-taking is useful in the first scene, which graphically depicts the rape and attack of Tonya Hailey. The cinematography is extremely important in this scene at creating empathy among the viewers. The framing of the scene is majorly from Tonya’s viewpoint. The viewers witness the rape as if it is their own body that is being violated. They see the attackers and the blurred tops of the trees as if the viewer is Tonya looking up from where they are lying on the ground. When the scene is not from her perspective the directors chose to shoot from close up as if keeping the viewer close to the incident and not allowing them to be distanced by physical distance. This framing causes empathic arousal in the viewers through perspective taking. In those first moments of the movie, the viewer is Tonya and that is disturbing to the viewers and sets up the feeling of empathy in the viewers from which they watch the film. This scene allows the viewers to understand Carl Lee’s actions and causes them to hope for justice through this little girl. The graphic nature of the scene allows the viewer to wish for poetic justice when they find out that justice through the court system is impossible. This scene is vital in the viewer’s understanding that justice is served in the movie.

While the first scene in the movie is the most critical for the viewers, Jake Brigance’s closing argument is the most important moment for the characters in the film when looking at the relationship between empathy and justice. His closing arguments cause and emotional response in the jury, through verbally mediated association, that leads them to turn their unanimous guilty verdict to unanimously not guilty. (Shown in part below)

Jake Brigance vividly describes the attack on Tonya to the jury in great graphic detail. The empathy that he is able to invoke is limited by the empathy that the white jurors are able to feel. However, by his final words, “… now imagine she is white,”(TK), he is able to show them the limitations of their empathy and manipulate that to his advantage. By showing them this limitation the jurors are able to see the lens from which they were viewing the case. Only by bringing race into the closing arguments is Brigance able to eliminate it from the reasoning of the jurors. The jurors were undoubtedly picturing the details of the crime described against a black little girl, because it happened to a black little girl. This creates distance for the jurors because they are an all white jury. When Brigance switches the race in their head they picture their daughter, niece, or some other little girl in their life and are able to feel more closely what Carl Lee was feeling when he found out what happened to his little girl. When they feel what Carl Lee felt they feel a moral obligation to produce a not guilty verdict, which serves poetic justice for everyone.

The not guilty verdict might cause those who view justice through the law to feel as if justice was not served in this case. However, to the viewer who sees justice as linked to this idea of poetic justice, justice was served in the courtroom. The Hailey family and the black community was saved from the humiliation of watching the men who so brutally attacked Tonya receive forgiveness from the law through lenient punishment. Justice was served for Carl Lee by finally allowing the protection from the community that the law should have guaranteed him his whole life. Unfortunately justice does not always align with the law and this movie is a prime example of this phenomena. While it was apparent to the viewers and jury alike that Carl Lee killed the two men, which in a “judicious spectator”(Nussbaum, 72) sense, should lead to a guilty verdict, justice was served in the respect that each man got what he deserved.

Nussbaum’s judicious spectator is one who views a case without allowing emotions to play to big of a role in their decision. They look at the facts and evidence of the case and use those as the primary way to determine guilt in the case. However, without emotion and empathy, the view of the case loses context. Nussbaum says that the judicious spectator would allow just enough emotion to understand context, but not enough to cloud their judgment (73). Meaning that the judicious spectator in this film would look at the evidence of Carl Lee’s actions and the law that is written in front of them in order to form the majority of their opinion. They would feel the emotions that came from the graphic retelling of the rape, but a judicious spectator would not allow it to be the sole decision making factor. The jury in the film allows their empathy to make the decision for them. They were not acting as judicious spectators. They put themselves in Carl Lee’s role, which is something that Nussbaum warns against, “That is, he is not personally involved in the events he witnesses, although he cares about the participants as a concerned friend,” (73). By not acting as judicious spectators they compromised justice through the eyes of the court, however that does not mean that all justice was compromised.

While justice through the court system may not have been served, poetic justice is still viable. In the ideal society there exists the social contract theory, “an actual or hypothetical compact, or agreement, between the ruled and their rulers, defining the rights and duties of each… by exercising natural reason, formed a society (and a government) by means of a contract among themselves,” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Which is what causes people to believe that justice through the court systems is enough. For these individuals, the idea is that Carl Lee lives in this society and that by doing so he has signed this contract to abide by the laws and in return society offers him protection. However, as evident by the film, and still today in society, the protection is not universal. In society there are groups that are marginalized and not equally protected under the law. This is not to say that they are not punished by the very structures that are meant to protect them. Evidence of this can be seen in the mass incarceration rates of Black Americans, “African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites” (NAACP), or in the recent exposure of the unarmed black men being killed while doing seemingly normal things, such as Trayvon Martin or Terence Crutcher. Carl Lee knew that his daughter Tonya was not going to be protected by the law in the same way that a white girl would have been protected, so he decided to bring justice for her on his own terms.

Carl Lee Hailey’s acquittal in the film A Time to Kill showed that empathy brought justice through the film. The question for the viewers to ask themselves when examining the film is what is justice? A judicious spectator might look at the evidence and say that justice was not brought through the film because the evidence shows that Carl Lee did execute the two men. However, justice does not always align with the law. In this instance justice means that everyone gets the punishment to match the crime committed. Carl Lee Hailey did not deserve to spend the rest of his life in jail, or worse die, because he decided to protect his daughter when the society that he lived in refused. In this way, justice was served.

Works Cited:

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Samuel L. Jackson. Warner Bros., 1996. Web. 18 Sept. 2016.

“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” NAACP. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. 2011. 230-54. Print.

Nussbaum, Martha. “Rational Emotions.” Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. 53-78. Print.

“Social Contract.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

Media Source:

https://www.youtube.com /watch?v=bKN1K2He8yg


Formal Assignment 1: Empathy as a Promotor of Justice

Engraved on the white marble edifice of the Supreme Court building stands the uncompromising phrase proclaiming “Equal Justice Under Law.” The law which governs the Supreme Court is the Constitution of the United States of America, which lists a number of relatively outdated and ambiguous statements pertaining to the way the country should be conducted. But aside from the dated wisdoms penned by wealthy, white, male, slaveowners in 1787 before the invention of the lightbulb, supreme justice in the United States is outlined by this ambiguous document. This ambiguity creates a cloud of turmoil around the term “justice” itself, and a deceptive perception of delivery on said aspect.

In a natural sense of humanity, justice is the belief that “one should get what one deserves–based on such things as performance, effort, good deeds, and character” (Hoffman 287). This definition will become crucial, especially based on the judgement of character. Hoffman, the author who frames said definition, goes on to state that “one’s rights as a citizen should be respected, punishment should fit the crime, and rules should be applied fairly and impersonally” (287). This second part will be omitted, as there is an inherent contradiction between the first and second part. One cannot judge another’s character–and what they deserve based on that attribute–without becoming personally acquainted with them. Thus, I contend that justice based on character and merit cannot be delivered without being familiar with the judged. In more eloquent terms, “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (Lee 39). This is where the discussion of empathy as a force for good within the film A Time to Kill begins, because empathy is required to pass judgement upon another person’s character, and deliver justice in the form of what that person deserves.

The central moral dilemma of the film revolves around whether revenge killing is ever justified, and whether or not a man should be punished for killing criminals. When Carl Lee Hailey kills the men who raped and attempted to murder his ten year old daughter, it is difficult not to feel relieved that the men will not escape punishment for their crimes. This sense of satisfaction stems from that innate sense of justice described above, because the men get what they deserve. Young Tonya will get to live without the fear of being attacked by those same men again, or the horror of having to face them while living in the same community. But what punishment does a man deserve for killing the men who attempted to murder his child? This will be addressed in two main parts. Firstly, if Carl Lee had not shot the two rapists, would they have been duly punished for their crimes? And secondly, did empathy inspire the court to make the most just ruling in the case?

Without Carl Lee’s actions, justice would not have been delivered in Tonya’s favor. There is a massive historical precedent for over sentencing in trials in which a person of color is the defendant, and a lack of conviction in cases where a person of color is the plaintiff. Within the movie itself, Carl Lee mentions the case of “four white boys” who “raped a little black girl” the year before and who were acquitted in court (TK). This sets a mindframe for the film in which the two men on trial would not be convicted for rape and attempted murder. In 1955, fourteen year old Emmett Till was brutally beaten and shot for flirting with a white cashier. The murderers were acquitted by an all-white jury despite the overwhelming evidence against them (“Emmett”). It is cases such as the Till case, in which justice is not served, which provide the understanding that in these times, Tonya would have been left without society’s protections. It is a lack of true empathy from the white juries that perpetuates this fallacy within justice. Because they sit behind a lifetime of privilege, protected by a country which celebrates whiteness, they can never truly understand the mind of a black person on trial. Since their very integration into society, black people in America have been seen as less than human, as an other which does not deserve the same treatment as a white person. Because of this deeply ingrained belief, empathy is impossible to reach for the jury in these trials; because justice cannot be served without an empathetic judgement of character, due process will always fall short. Hoffman comments on this as well, because “in multicultural settings when inter-group rivalry fosters hostility toward out-groups” empathy is translated into anger, or a bias against members of the out-groups (251). Had Carl Lee not taken action against the men on trial, the movie provides sufficient evidence that justice would not have been served due to a historical lack of empathy in all-white juries towards people of color. In this way, Carl Lee was an arbiter of justice, carrying out the sentence that the men deserved based on their actions and character.

The jury’s empathy for Carl Lee perpetuated justice in the form of his acquittal. The majority of the trial is spent arguing the insanity plea, and saying that Carl Lee could not help what he had done. It wasn’t until the closing statement when Jake Brigance-Carl Lee’s lawyer-switched tacts away from Carl Lee’s supposed insanity, to the torment he felt as a father, and all parents would feel in his situation. The question then becomes: does he deserve to be punished? Rather than: did he commit the crime? This fundamental shift in argumentation is what enabled the jury to feel they were delivering justice by acquitting him of the crime. Before the closing statement when the jury looked at Carl Lee, they didn’t “see a man” they saw “a black man” (TK). This discernment was hindering their ability to feel that Carl Lee was justified in killing two white men. They would see him as a black man who was so angry with the justice system and what those men did to his daughter, that he ambushed and killed them. That in itself did not give him enough leeway to be freed. When Jake humanized Carl Lee’s plight, and put the jury in the shoes of a black man for the first time in their life, they saw through the prejudices which had blinded them into judging him more harshly than they would have a white defendant. This insight plays toward a natural instinct within humans: seeing others “disadvantaged by racist law” promotes “action to right the wrong and restore justice” (Hoffman 238). The closing statement did not cure the jury of their racism or longheld prejudices towards colored people, because “America is a wall, and [they are] on the other side” of it (TK). What it did do however, was show them the fallacy within their own logic, and illuminate their prejudices in action. It demonstrated to the jury and the audience that they were viewing the case through colored glasses, and taking them off was the only way to deliver a decision which upheld justice. Justice in the case of Carl Lee Hailey, was giving him what he deserved-freedom to be with his family.

Finally, the trial of Carl Lee serves as a microcosm for the community as a whole, and the injustice facing black people on a daily basis. Within the courtroom the struggle for justice is between a black man and a white prosecution. Outside the same fight is being held, but it is between the black community and the branch of the KKK which seeks to reignite the marginally suppressed hatred for African Americans. Shown most explicitly in the final scene, the black protesters gathered outside the courthouse and faced down the Klu Klux Klan the same way Carl Lee was facing down the white prosecutors, or perhaps even the jury. His acquittal is symbolic of justice being served not only in his trial, but in the community itself. Carl Lee becomes a symbol for equality, and proof that a black man can face a fair trial in court. With his acquittal the KKK is broken up, and corruption purged from within the justice system (TK). This conclusion, reminiscent of deus ex machina, hints at a brighter future for the community, filled with compassion and justice. Thus, when Carl Lee is acquitted, it is not simply him being freed, but the black community as a whole. He is a symbol of justice and optimism, an attempt to right some of the wrongs which have been done unto his people.

Perhaps, when following the letter of the law, what Carl Lee did was wrong and should be punished. However, justice is not always defined by written laws. It is fluid, changing from circumstance to circumstance, and is heavily dependent upon empathetic judgements of character. In killing the rapists and attempted murderers, Carl Lee delivered justice. He was a good, hardworking man who was defending his daughter the only way he could in a society institutionalized to oppress his ethnicity. He in turn got what he–and his community–deserved when he was acquitted for his crime. Thus, the rare empathy of an all-white jury towards a black man and his ten year old daughter promoted justice in the court.

Works Cited

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Warner Bros., 1996. Web. 18 Sept. 2016.

“Emmett Till Biography.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, 26 June 2015. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

Hoffman, Martin. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives, edited by Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie, Oxford University Press, 2011, 230-254.

Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960. Print.

Formal Assignment #1 Final Draft

Empathy, the ability to connect to one another on an emotional level and feel what others feel, is an integral part of how humans decide right from wrong. Yet in the court system, countless juries are advised to keep their emotions out of their decision-making because of the inherent biases that may infringe upon justice by swaying an otherwise an impartial decision. Countless moral codes throughout history agree that it is unjust to kill or rape another, much of this law being derived from empathy itself. Thus it is safe to say that empathy does have its place in the delivery of justice. But the hardest question of all is whether or not empathy can be a good moral compass, that is does empathy promote justice? This is an especially complicated question in the movie, A Time To Kill, when racial tension and prejudice creeped into the minds of jurors and spectators alike when an African-American man, Carl Lee Hailey, was brought to trial for killing the two white men who had beaten and raped his ten year old daughter. In Carl Lee’s trial, the matter of justice does indeed become black and white for all the wrong reasons, for Canton is a typical Southern town that holds onto its racist views even in the 1980’s. In order to free Carl Lee, his lawyer Jake Brigance took up the task of getting an all white jury to empathize with Carl Lee’s emotional state and circumstances, leading the jury to acquit him of the charges. But in freeing a man who doled out his own vigilante justice, Carl Lee committed another crime to rectify the one before it, making him no less guilty of his crime in the eyes of the legal system. Empathy has a curious role in A Time To Kill, in which it neglects delivering lawful justice for the two men killed and promotes poetic justice on behalf of Carl Lee.

Justice is different in the eyes of each person and for the sake of this argument must be defined. As defined by Merriam Webster, justice is, “the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals” (“Justice”). But this is not how all minds reach a so-called “just” decision. When the human mind tries to make a fair decision, two different types of justice are taken into account: lawful justice and poetic justice. Lawful justice is the dictionary definition of justice mentioned above, it is impartial and in accordance with written law. But laws do not always make the decisions people are deserving of. Poetic justice on the other hand is when people get their “just desserts” or what “what’s coming to them.” It is the reward or punishment people deserve regardless of a court ruling and can vary in severity or leniency depending on the person. Nevertheless, appealing to the jury’s sense of poetic justice can influence how many make decisions, as humans often want their definition of poetic justice to come to fruition as lawful justice. In fortunate circumstances, poetic justice and lawful justice become one and the same; there is no distinction between what society feels is necessary and the verdict handed out. But this is often not the case.

Starting as an otherwise cut and dry court case in the South where the black man gets accused of the crime regardless of the circumstances, Carl Lee’s lawyer, Jake Brigance presented a compelling appeal to empathy that convinced the jury that Carl Lee was not guilty of murder. The specific type of empathy in Brigance’s closing statement called upon the affective empathy of the jury, as defined by Martin L. Hoffman as the kind of empathy in which people take it upon themselves to feel what another has gone through (Hoffman 230). Affective empathy plays an important role in getting justice for Carl Lee because it is capable triggering such raw emotion in others to the point that it can compel people to act upon the distress they feel for others, which is exactly what was needed to free Carl Lee (Hoffman 231). It is this kind of empathy Brigance invoked in the jury that got the jury to feel the injustice and fear of learning an innocent little girl was raped. This feeling of empathic injustice is what drives many people to alleviate the distress of others and promote justice — and it is what helped the jury relate to Carl Lee and free him (Hoffman 237). Because before the story, all they heard was that a black man had the insolence to kill two white men. But now, they empathize with Carl Lee’s tragedy and the injustice of his circumstances in Brigance’s final argument.

When Brigance begins his closing statement, he asks everyone to close their eyes, mentally lowering their guards and getting them to listen without regard to skin color (A Time to Kill). In that moment, Brigance asked that they all cast their differences aside and listen to a simple story about a little girl. A little, ten year-old girl who was walking home with groceries and was brutally raped and battered by two men for no other reason than because they could. And then the little girl, unconscious and bloody, was about to be hanged, living only because the tree branch broke. By the end of this heart wrenching story, tears were seeping through the jurors’ closed eyes, their breathing had become slightly labored, and then — “Now imagine she’s white” (A Time To Kill).

(The Most Persuasive Closing Argument EVER!)

Their eyes opened in shock and revelation, because they may have cried for a young black girl who was raped, but a young white girl who got raped could have been someone they knew: the little girl next door, a niece, their own daughter. And that was when it hit home for them. Brigance narrated this story with the intention of arousing empathic feelings of injustice in the jury, so that they too understood the impulse for poetic justice, as Carl Lee had, because nobody should be able to get away with raping a child. Prior to that last statement, the verdict was all but decided: Carl Lee murdered two men, regardless of what they had done before. In this call for empathy, Brigance promotes poetic justice over lawful justice to free Carl Lee. Empathy, the shared outrage, anguish, and tears over Carl Lee’s circumstance, is what was able to justify his killing of two men and allowed Carl Lee to walk free despite the crimes he committed.

On the flip side to Carl Lee walking away a free man, a display of poetic justice after Tonya’s rape, there was still no one to answer for the murders of the two men. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that these men were despicable human beings, but in the eyes of the law, they too were considered people who deserved to have their murderers brought to justice. And while Carl Lee’s family got justice after Tonya’s rape, what of the families of the two men? It can be argued that they also suffered great loss and wished for justice for their loved ones. But the jury and audience did not empathize with these victims as much as they did with Carl Lee and his family. The film and trial focused upon the hardship and tragedy Carl Lee experienced, allowing viewers to become more emotionally invested in him. In contrast, there is a lack of empathy and attention for the families of the two men killed, and the fact that the men raped a young girl did not gain them favor. Audience members feel little attachment and empathy for those two abhorrent individuals and filmmakers do little to discourage this contempt. So although the law would have been more inclined to agree with the prosecution, the jury’s lack of empathy for them played a vital role in acquitting Carl Lee because unlike Carl Lee, the two men killed had no compelling story that made jurors’ hearts bleed. Thus it can be said that an imbalance of empathy between the defense and prosecution created a bias that favored the defense and failed to promote lawful justice. Additionally, the empathy invoked for Carl Lee’s freedom swayed the jury more than appropriate in a case about the murder of two men. The affective empathy Brigance drew out was so potent that it ignited a desire for poetic justice and prevented the jurors from acting as the ideal “judicious spectator,” a term coined by Adam Smith, describing an outsider who could empathize and feel with a person but not allow those feelings to cloud their judgement (Nussbaum 73). And as Nussbaum mentions, the judicious spectator is what keeps lawful justice at its best by passing reasonable verdicts, using empathy that helps jurors remain emotionally cognizant of those involved but detached enough to make a fair decision (Nussbaum 73-74). Unfortunately, the amount of empathy invoked failed to cultivate judicious spectators and promote lawful justice here, instead supporting poetic justice for Carl Lee by the end of Jake Brigance’s closing statement.

But perhaps the most curious part about A Time to Kill is not about the final verdict itself, but how Brigance was able to convince the jury that they were making the right decision by freeing Carl Lee and that he was not guilty of the murders he committed. Brigance draws upon the empathy of viewers to convince them that the decision of promoting poetic justice is the right choice because lawful justice will not be sufficient in giving people what they deserve. Carl Lee deserves to be free, but as Lucien Wilbanks stated, Carl Lee “is guilty as sin under our legal system” (A Time To Kill). Thus, Brigance uses the McNaughton Rule to legally justify Carl Lee’s actions as those of an insane man, but presents same those actions to the jury as those of a man doing the admittedly wrong thing for the right reason to protect his family. And that was something every single person on that jury could empathize with. It was because of that that they chose to “believe” Carl Lee Hailey was insane even though they all knew that Carl Lee was as sane as any other person in the room. The McNaughton Rule was utilized as a legal loophole to allow poetic justice in a legal system that condemned Carl Lee’s vigilante violence. Carl Lee’s actual defense that helped set him free laid in the empathic connection jurors had established with his tragic circumstance, the thought of having the innocence of one’s child ripped away from them in such a hateful manner was enough to convince the jury that Carl Lee did not deserve punishment. Because in Brigance’s final statement, he essentially asked the jury to imagine what they would have felt and done if they experienced the same emotional trauma Carl Lee had. Admittedly, such involved empathy prevented them from being judicious spectators but it made them understand and agree with Carl Lee’s choices that prioritized poetic justice over lawful justice.  With Carl Lee freed, lawful justice has taken a backseat to poetic justice. But it does not feel as if justice has been lost, rather it has taken on a different form in comparison to the conventional legal justice that is so often ascribed to being true justice.

It is truly difficult, if not impossible to find justice for all sides in any given situation, much less for empathy to be able to promote a perfect delivery of justice. Empathy promotes justice in a skewed fashion in A Time To Kill by preying on the emotions of injustice viewers and jurors alike feel for Tonya and Carl Lee Hailey. It can be noted that Carl Lee’s freedom was lawful on account of the McNaughton Rule but the verdict was passed on account of the empathy jurors felt for Carl Lee and their desire for poetic justice, not because Carl Lee was truly insane. Despite this, the final verdict in A Time To Kill does not leave jurors of the audience disappointed at the lack of lawful justice. Instead there is a feeling of triumph that poetic justice has prevailed; an honorable man was able to walk free from doing the wrong thing to protect his family and get justice that was not guaranteed in court. A Time to Kill is very much a proponent of poetic justice in the quest for a cinematic hit, tapping into the empathy of the jurors to show that the so-called “right” side is capable of winning despite the court case being about the murder of two men, and not Tonya’s rape. At its core, A Time To Kill is still a film created for the purpose of profit, and uses empathy to promote poetic justice in an appeal to attract an audience with a classic underdog comeback, without regard to how laws and juries are expected to work. Nevertheless, it speaks to how empathy promotes poetic justice in an otherwise black and white court system where one may be condemned for doing the wrong thing for all the right reasons.

Works Cited:

A Time To Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, and Kevin Spacey. Warner Bros., 1996. Blackboard. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 230-54. Web. Accessed Sept 25, 2016.

“Justice.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

Nussbaum, Martha. “Rational Emotions.” Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. 53-78. Print/Web.

The Most Persuasive Closing Argument EVER! Perf. Matthew McConaughey. Warner Bros., 1996. A Time To Kill. Youtube, 13 July 2013. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.