Robert Kirby: Citizens caned? Felons flogged? Now that would do justice to justice.

Robert Kirby

When I read that the Utah Supreme Court was unhappy with the current way the legal system works, and that the justices hoped to change it for the better, I nearly swooned. About damn time.

Finally, I told myself, we’re going to return to the affordable basics of the judiciary — chain gangs, stocks, pillories, public floggings and remedial corner sitting. Perhaps even stoning.

Not only was I wrong about fixing the justice system, but I also didn’t really understand how they proposed to improve things by allowing, as The Salt Lake Tribune put it, “nonlawyers and tech entrepreneurs to bring innovation to a legal profession often mired in detailed rules.”

I skimmed the rest of the article and didn’t see a word about reinstituting corporal punishment, which would be a huge major step in reducing crime.

A hundred years ago, the average time in Utah between a death sentence and somebody actually being executed was measured in weeks. Certainly no longer than a month. Today, it’s roughly 16 years.

Actually, it’s not even “roughly.” While prison isn’t a great place to be, roughly hardly serves when comparing incarceration in the U.S. to being locked up in Iran, Venezuela, North Korea and Nigeria.

I don’t know what the statistics are — and I can’t be bothered to look them up — but I’ll bet the odds of getting killed in prison are lower than they are for the general population on the outside.

Note: If I had to guess — and I do — it’s probably because most inmates aren’t locked up with spouses and other family members who already drive them crazy.

Never mind that. At issue here (in this column) is the amount of time it takes a case to work through the court system. They don’t use watches or calendars in court. Most attorneys will take their clients outside after dark and point up at the sky.

Lawyer: “Right about there is where Halley’s comet will come again. We should have a jury selected by then.”

Client: “What the hell? That’s, like, another 40 years!”

Lawyer: “See? I told you we’d move this case right along.”

One of the ways of speeding up the justice system is by cutting back on the number of people it’s forced to process. The best way of doing that is to make justice seriously scary.

Say you’re pissed about a speeding ticket. It wasn’t fair. The cop was mean. So you go to court. Would you bother burdening the judge if you knew that losing your case meant immediately having the court disciplinarian (an actual position like a bailiff) beat your bare butt a dozen times with a bamboo cane? Or would you just pay the ticket?

Let’s take it down a notch. How about instead of being unable to sit down for a week, you were required to pick up trash for 20 hours, or lick graffiti off public buildings?

We could do this with most misdemeanor crimes. Nonviolent felons? Deportation. You bet. We’ll take a hundred waiting immigrants if Mexico or Cuba will take 10 of our nonviolent felons.

Murderers, rapists and baby killers. I don’t believe in the death penalty, but that’s probably because I have an overactive imagination. There are ways of making serial killers spend the rest of their lives wishing they were dead.

Editor’s note • Utah Supreme Court Justice John Pearce is the husband of Salt Lake Tribune Editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce. He had no input nor was he consulted for purposes of this column.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.