How justice fails to be fully promoted in A Time To Kill

For many, the movie A Time to Kill depicts a great lawyer Jake Brigance tries his best to serve and defend justice for a black man Carl Lee Haily, whose daughter was cruelly raped and seriously injured by two white guys and he killed them afterwards just before they were about to be on court(TK). Carl Lee was proved innocent at last and set free due to Jake’s touching and unique closing statement on court, in which he walked the jurors quite sentimentally through the horrible and inhumane torture little Tonya, Carl Lee’s daughter and the victim of this insult, has been through(TK). While many claim after watching this movie that justice finally prevailed at a time when racial discrimination was so intense, I’d say justice has not been fully served in this film. I’ll focus on Jake Brigance’s final statement on court to elaborate my idea, about what is the difference between “what is understandable behavior” and “what is legal behavior” and about the inherent limitations in Jake’s statement itself.

I’ll start elaborating my point by firstly mentioning Carl Lee’s action. Regardless of what Carl Lee’s daughter Tonya has been through and what it means to her father, Carl Lee, a civilian rather than a proper law enforcer has basically no right or power to punish the guys who committed the horrible crime himself. Carl Lee is acquitted at last, so it basically means that he is innocent of killing two people who insulted his daughter; then from this point of view it would be acceptable if one of the dead white guy’s father shoot Carl Lee to death and still would be proved innocent for his action because he simply kills the killer of his son. But it’s not acceptable after all. There is no such thing in modern Laws says that if some one did a horrible thing to me, and if it was bad enough then I would have every right to do whatever I consider is right to him.Wrongdoings must be evaluated by Laws and killer must be punished by Law enforcers after all. Basically speaking, the dead white guys’ parents received unjust treatment from this perspective,because the killer of their sons haven’t been punished.

As I mentioned above that a reasonable thing to do doesn’t necessarily mean it is legal, and if it is not legal, then justice was never served. When comes to such extreme circumstance, people tend to follow their will to do things, because they think they have just cause.But Law does not allow people to kill others according to their own will. So here comes the ambiguous part, that people claim we don’t have to follow the Law strictly because Law is just a reflection of people’s willingness so in the case like this we may use humanitarianism as measurement to consider more for the weak rather than depending purely on Constitutions.The lawyer Jake actually uses this strategy in the film. Instead of fighting the prosecutor with hard evidence, Jake Brigance emphasizes in his closing statement only how hurtful this experience must be for a parent so we can’t say Carl Lee is guilty for his action(TK). But I’d say we have to stick to the Law that was established because it is the thing which we all agreed upon to use to keep our society functioning perfectly and keep the justice among everybody. So it might be reasonable for a father to act like this when his daughter was insulted, but it is not legal after all. And again it is totally unjust for the dead’s families that Carl Lee go away without being punished by the Law.

Then I will talk about Jake’s closing statement itself. I find it very touching after hearing all his words, but I also find it incomprehensive for a proper closing statement on court. Instead of providing his strongest point to compete with prosecutor’s points, Jake uses pure emotional language to tell the jurors a horrible experience. He can actually tell the hard evidence with emotions to make his point stronger, but he uses all his sentiment, which makes me think of an idea proposed by Martin L. Hoffman in his paper about “Victim-impact statement and empathy bias”(252). Empathy plays a great role in court decision making process,it makes us feel what the victim feels so that we can make more suitable decision according to it. But empathy could play its role correctly if and only if we had fully understood its limitations. The “Victim-impact statement and empathy bias” demonstrates how the heartbreaking statement that victim made would affect judge and jurors’ decision largely because they will be moved so much by the emotional attachment with one person that they will neglect many rational features,like evidence and essence of Law, when they come to their final decisions(Hoffman 253). In this case, the defendant’s lawyer Jake Brigance tells an experience that no one can tolerate. Since the jurors are all white, he even uses the sentence “now imagine she’s white”(TK) to make them feel more emotionalized that most of them were brimming with tears at last. Under such emotionalized mood, I don’t think the jurors consider rationally about this case when deciding.Without considering the essence of killing, they all tend to think about their families, their children. So the final decision is totally unjust for the prosecutor’s families because no one is considering for them.

Though I’m arguing in this article that justice was not prevailed in the film because I think Carl Lee’s acquitting at last makes dead’s family receive no justice, from a different perspective, Jake Brigance’s closing statement makes the society start to think more about what is right for different colored people since Jake successfully makes all the white jurors from a place where racial discrimination is so overwhelming feel involved with a black man. I think this is the justice that the Black should receive at the time—to be considered. But for the court arguing, the decision is undoubtedly unjust for the two white guys’ family.

The Court should be the most just place one can ever find on this planet, because it represents authority. It’s like a perfect scale, a scale to measure who should be protected and who should be punished. And the weight on the scale should never be affected by things other than the Grand Constitution itself. Empathy, however, is like smaller weight on the scale that makes the balance even more precise. But too much empathy would ruin the balance as well. Many agree today that involving empathy as a measurement on court will bring more humane and accurate decision since jurors can feel as the victim or the prosecutor feels, and they may understand the situation more clearly. But Jake Brigance’s closing statement clearly put too much empathy weight on Carl Lee’s side so that Carl Lee finally walks away from killing two people. Thus I hereby conclude justice is not fully promoted in the movie A Time To Kill.



Works Cited:

A Time To Kill,directed by Joel Schumacher
Warner Bros. Pictures,1966

Hoffman, Martin L., “Empathy,Justice and the Law”, Empathy:Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives,Ed. Amy Coplan,Peter Goldie, Oxford University Press,2011,252-253.

5 thoughts on “How justice fails to be fully promoted in A Time To Kill

  1. I think it was a great choice for me to focus more on the unjust part on court,while made a concession about the justice promoted outside the court. This makes this paper more comprehensive to answer the question “was justice promoted in A Time To Kill”. To elaborate the unjust treatment the dead’s family received, I move from common sense (to kill a person is wrong and should be punished anyway)to the specific closing statement which directly affects jurors decision (Jake’s defective statement ), and I think this process will make readers more convinced about my point. My concern about my draft is about a specific logic in my first point. I wrote that if Carl Lee is proved innocent of killing two people that raped his daughter, then does it mean that the dead’s parents can kill Carl Lee too because he killed their sons. After this assumption I claimed that this is certainly not allowed, but I failed to convince myself about this. I think I did not come up with a strong point or evidence to show that the dead’s parents would be guilty if they did kill Carl Lee afterwards.
    Then for my peer reviewers, the question that I want to propose regarding to my paper is:
    Why is Carl Lee wrong about killing/punishing two people?
    Why is Jake’s statement defective?

  2. Thesis: ‘I’d say justice has not been fully served in this film. I’ll focus on Jake Brigance’s final statement on court to elaborate my idea, about what is the difference between “what is understandable behavior” and “what is legal behavior” and about the inherent limitations in Jake’s statement itself.’ The author answered the question by giving his opinions first and then state how he will illustrate his points. In his article, he emphasized at criticizing Jake’s closing statement and analyzed why it fails to promote justice, which I think is a novel perspective. However, I think he should added more details from the movie to give hard evidence that Carl Lee should be guilty instead of merely talking from logic perspective. I think mention of assigned reading material is important in this article because it gives clear definitions to key terms and is useful in analyzing this case. The author mentioned one of the biases in his article and relates it to the film, but the discussion is relatively limited and insufficient.
    Carl Lee is wrong in killing two people because he can’t execute the law by himself.
    Jake’s closing is defective in that he fully relies on his sentiment and use of emotional language instead of listing out hard facts.

  3. “Legal” justice fails to be fully promoted in A Time To Kill, This is obvious. The film however is not about “legal” justice even if it happens to take place in a Courtroom.

    The story is about a a world that is full of “injustice” everyday including in the very fallible court of law. The reality is while “The Court should be the most just place one can ever find on this planet” it very often is not. Certainly not for the blacks during the time period represented in A Time To Kill. This is covered thoroughly in the film from the story of other whites being released for the very same crime before Carl goes on his rampage to the denial of a change of venue, to the all white jury, all examples of the Court not being the most just place one can ever find. So in this world of injustice where another injustice could have likely happened with the rapists acquittal what is justice? That is the central question of the film. If the system of justice is unjust what is justice?

    Clearly murdering the two accused rapists is not acceptable for many reasons not the least of which is weather they they were guilty or not in the first place, something the system of justice is designed to help discover in a fair in legal way even if it often fails to do so particularly in the world created in the film. However Carl never says he didn’t kill the two men, The film is about the weakness of the legal system of the time where it is eluded to that the two men would be acquitted, That every step of the way the fracture of the system stacks against Carl. Carls acquittal while not justice in the ideal world is justice in that he at least received the same pass from prosecution that so many white criminals of the time received for completely unjust crimes. So that is why A Time to Kill is not about law, it is about a glimmer of hope in an unjust world, if Carl can elude the punishmentof the justice system like so many whites did then perhaps the next time a white person commits a hate crime they can actually be held accountable that the system that the system is closer to equal. If the legal system is so stacked against a group of people for unjust reasons perhaps a technically unjust ruling is closer to the system actually becoming fair and the court getting closer to being the most just place on the planet.

    The story is not the sterile concept of legal justice, for the perfect justice system to exist during the time all whites would have to have been judged fairly and impartially, they often we not, and all blacks would need to have not been judged unfairly and impartially, they very often were not. If one can not acknowledge and understand the shortcomings of the legal system then one can not find ways to improve it and make it more of the “most just place on the planet”

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