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.
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>.