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: /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.” 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, 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.

Formal Assignment 1 Draft

The film opens with a truck raging down an open dirt road. Two sweaty, drunk, racist, and violent white men are inside, pushing the truck to its weak limits of speed and shock absorption. The reason why I mention their race, is the fact that they are driving in a low income African American neighborhood. As they fly down this road, they make numerous stops at local houses and shops. At each stop they become increasingly drunk and then violent towards all of the neighborhood’s people. This tension culminates during the rape scene, which is raw and brutally portrayed. This is where the film first uses empathy. Designed to have viewers hate the rapists, the film successfully made me believe something I know do not. During the film “A Time to Kill”, no justice exists for Carl Lee or Mr. Cobb and Mr. Willard. If the case is viewed in its purest form without race being a factor, both sides have committed terrible crimes. The only way for justice truly to be served is for both sides to be punished.

              The issue of race has always been an issue in court, especially within recent years. Events like the shooting of Michael Brown, the death of Erick Garner, and even the beating of Rodney King have sparked great separation within society. It seems now that a day does not go by without seeing some form of race conflict in the papers. However, the film does not take place now. The film takes place when the KKK was still active in the south and when income directly correlated with race. This said, race was more intense during the time period the film was set in. The jury was completely impartial to begin with. Not only entirely white, but some even were set upon convicting Carl Lee before he set foot in the courtroom. How can justice possibly exist in the courtroom if the jury is unchanged by evidence?

Nussbaum would argue that the jury needed to be occupied by “judicious spectators”.  These ideal jurors will not “have such emotions and thoughts as relate to his own personal safety and happiness; in that sense he is without bias and surveys the scene before him with a certain sort of detachment” (Nussbaum 73). Judicious spectators in the jury box would disregard the added complication of race in the case, and see the case for what it really is. When it is finally seen as a trial between two people of equal social standing, there will be justice. Hoffman too sees justice in court is sometimes skewed due to bias. However, Hoffman believes that it is impossible to avoid, so it must simply be adjusted for. Mr. Brigance had a similar idea when proposing a change in court location. He knew that the bias of the jury would eliminate his chance of winning the case. But had MR. Brigance successfully changed the court location, the racial bias would still be the same, just in an opposite direction. This would not change the level of unfairness as the court as there is still bias. The ideal court scenario would consist of judicious spectators who would put their own personal biases aside and see the case in its pure form, and no longer perceiving it as a trial solely about race.

The final closing speech Jake Brigance makes is incredibly emotional and well delivered. This, I believe. However, the final jury’s decision based on this speech I do not believe. As a final appeal to the jury, he decides to attack them on the only front he has left exposed and unused: empathy. The racism and difference in social class between the defendant and the plaintiff has left the jury unconvinced of his arguments, so Mr. Brigance attacks on the final front.Now, it is incumbent upon us lawyers not to just talk about the truth, but to actually seek it, to find it, to live it” (TK). As Jake begins to list off the numerous terrible crimes that Tanya suffered, the jury becomes more and more and more emotional. The amount of empathic distress is so intense that the whole jury changes their stance on the case. As much as I want to believe that justice is served from this decision, I cannot. In the eyes of a fair, non-biased court jury this would have been observed as a two awful crimes. The first being two first degree murders, the other a rape and assault. If the murders were a result of the rape and assault, then the murderer must be punished.

I believe that the final ending and verdict of the trial in the film is unjust. The concluding speech made by Mr. Brigance was put in a light to make it seem like the right thing to do, like the just thing to do. In fact, not only the end, but the entire film was focused on justifying the killing of Pete Willard and Billy Ray Cobb, which created a very biased viewpoint for the viewers. The film does in fact not push us to think as a judicious spectator. Instead, we are filled with the anger at the racism, rape and abuse that his daughter suffered. This leads us to connect as many dots as we can to justify the brutal murder of Willard and Cobb. Empathy does not promote justice in the film.

Works Cited:

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacy. Regency Enterprises, 1996. DVD.

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

“Now imagine she’s white” (TK).

With these words, Jake Brigance abruptly concludes his closing arguments in defense of Carl Lee Hailey. The jurors who have been imagining the harrowing circumstances of Tonya Hailey’s abduction and rape open their eyes in apparent shock. Shortly thereafter we learn from a young African-American boy exiting the courthouse that Carl Lee has been found “innocent” (TK). This is one of many instances in the film in which empathy appears to play a vital role in the pursuit of justice. But in this film, empathy and justice are slippery and problematic. Who deserves our empathy, and why? Who deserves justice, and why? These are all questions raised by the film, and important to our conversations about empathy and ethics. For this assignment, however, you will answer the following question:

Does empathy promote justice in A Time to Kill?

The question is worded simply enough, but is deceptively complex. In order to answer it, you will need to rely on specific evidence from the film, and careful analysis of that evidence. Remember that, because you will be completing this assignment in the blog, you can use images and video to help support your analysis.

You will also need to define your terms for the purposes of your argument. To do so you should make use of at least one of our longer readings from class. We have discussed the importance and difficulty of defining empathy, and have read Martin Hoffman’s definition of the term and account of its development, along with its place and limitations in the legal system. We have also read Martha Nussbaum’s account of Adam Smith’s “judicious spectator,” a role she believes makes for an ideal juror–and one that is cultivated through literary reading (72). How can one of these authors help you understand empathy and justice for the purposes of understanding this film?

In addition to this question you may want to consider some of the following questions:

  • Does Jake’s closing argument encourage empathy, or does it rely on the limitations of the white jurors’ empathy? Can it do both? If it only does the latter, is that okay as long as it gets them to acquit Carl Lee?
  • Does the film encourage us as viewers to be “judicious spectators”? Why or why not?
  • Is justice in this film coextensive with the law? Why or why not?

What a successful assignment will incorporate:

  • An argumentative thesis answering the question at issue for the assignment, and an essay that develops that thesis statement.
  • Clear definition of key terms
  • Use of specific evidence from the film, and analysis of that evidence.
  • Use of either Hoffman or Nussbaum’s essay to help you make your argument.
  • Appropriate use of sources, and citation of those sources, along with a Works Cited section with entries for all of your sources.

Your essay should be approximately 1000-1200 words in length. Your initial draft of the essay will be due in class on Tuesday, September 27. We will do peer review in class on that day, and then you will meet with me individually later that week to discuss my feedback and your plans for revision. Your final draft of the blog post will be due by classtime on Tuesday, October 4.

Works Cited

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

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