Mala Ultionis: Trading Justice for Revenge
– by David Matthews 2
According to my old college and high school education, there are two kinds of crimes in society.
The first is called “mala en se”, which is Latin for “wrong by itself”. Crimes like murder, rape, theft, and fraud are pretty much self-explanatory. Anyone with a thinking brain will know that these kinds of activities are wrong.
The second kind of crime is called “mala prohibita”, or “wrong by legislation”. These are activities that are deemed wrong for no other reason than because a legislative body DEEMS them to be wrong. Things like breaking the speed limit, riding a motorcycle without a helmet, or going on a boat without a life vest are all considered “wrong” because the legislature DECLARED them to be such.
But of late I’ve come across a THIRD kind of crime in society, and some may consider it to be an off-shoot of “mala prohibita” since it is also only considered “wrong by legislation”, but their motivations behind it are somewhat different.
I call it “mala ultionis”.
“Wrong by Revenge”.
These are the kinds of crimes that are put in place to AVENGE some kind of past activity. For instance, if a bank robber is wearing a mask when he or she commits the crime, the legislature could later on make it illegal for one to wear a mask inside a bank. Obviously the law cannot be used to go after the bank robber, because that’s considered after-the-fact, but it WOULD be done to punish other people.
But… what if you take your child to the bank on Halloween and your child is dressed up in costume and wearing a mask? Well then you and your child could be facing some serious penalties, wouldn’t you?
Yes, it doesn’t make sense, but then again laws that are “mala ultionis” are not about making sense. It’s about trying to satisfy that blinding demand for REVENGE.
After John Hinkley tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, liberals immediately screamed for strict gun control legislation. They couldn’t stop Hinkley, so they wanted to make life miserable for other people who either have guns or wanted to get guns. And pretty much every kind of gun control legislation that has come up since then has been based on similar kinds of tragedies. Every school shooting and workplace shooting in America has resulted in new pushes towards restricting gun ownership and gun use. Those laws are all “mala ultionis” laws. They could not be used to STOP the tragedies that inspire them, but rather they are used to punish OTHER people to satisfy that obsessive NEED for REVENGE.
Likewise, when Hinkley was found not guilty by reason of insanity, there were waves of proposals to re-write the legal system to either eliminate the insanity plea completely or else to neutralize it so someone would STILL be held to account for their actions even though they would be considered insane. Again, those are proposals that would be considered “mala ultionis”
You know those laws that are written in memory of someone who was a crime victim? They don’t have to be a murder victim. They could just as easily be someone who was kidnapped. Those are usually “mala ultionis” laws. They’re written to make other people pay the price for the crime that the victim endured.
In light of the recent acquittal of Casey Anthony in Florida over the death of her child, there is a new wave of similar revenge-based laws being proposed to “avenge” what happened to Casey’s child Caylee. Sixteen states are now either pondering or enacting laws that would criminalize parents for not reporting a child missing within as little as twelve hours, or failing to report the death of a child.
“Mala ultionis”. The state couldn’t punish Casey for Caylee’s death, so they’re going to punish anyone else they can get.
I’m sure some people that this is just a matter of fixing the barn door after the animals have left, but let’s get brutally honest here… these kinds of laws are NOT going to do what they are intended to do. Worse yet, these kinds of customized “in the honor of the victims” laws can lead to even worse abuses.
Let’s suppose some state passes one of these “Caylee’s Laws” and charges parents that fail to report a child missing as felonies. What is to stop some vindictive parent or relative from using that law to accuse their ex-spouse of “failing to report” when they claim that they couldn’t “communicate” with their child? How about if a pregnant woman has a miscarriage and her abusive bible-thumping anti-abortion husband declares it to be murder? Hey, she didn’t “report it” in time, therefore it’s a felony.
Politicians tend to consider these to be “unintended consequences”, but that excuse only applies if they actually put some serious THOUGHT into these laws instead of just blindly passing what’s put before them like the paid lemmings they are. Instead, they’re considered “feel-good” laws to appease the emotional masses yearning for some kind of legislative response to a tragedy.
It should be noted that there ARE some forms of “mala ultionis” that have beneficial purposes. For instance, the Bill of Rights, the limitations placed on government, were all created as a result of past abuses of power. Same with the laws that came up after Watergate. In instances where government abuses its power, restrictions are put in place that essentially punishes future politicians from repeating those abuses. Unfortunately, those kinds of “mala ultionis” laws are few and far between. Politicians can dish them out, but they obviously can’t take them.
Substituting revenge for justice doesn’t make up for past wrongs. It only serves to create more misery by making others pay the price for actions they had no role in.