By Shane Robinson
Locus Standi: the right to bring an action, to be heard in court, or to address the court on a matter before it. In the United States there are three ways to gain standing in a suit: First, if the party can show they are directly and adversely effected by a statute or action, Second, if a party is not directly harmed by the conditions they are requesting relief from, but the harm has some reasonable relation their situation or the continued existence of the harm may affect others who might not be able to ask a court for relief (In the US this is commonly used to strike down laws violating the 1st amendment), Third, a party can be automatically granted standing through an act of law.
This may seem like a trivial matter to most people, but in my view it ought to be given greater consideration in the larger discussion of criminal justice. Consider Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case originally brought against proposition 8 in California, the Supreme Court decided the case by rejecting the standing of the defendants to appeal the original lower court decision. The matter of legal standing is recognized as being of high importance by the Supreme Court. However there is one group of people who are always given standing to pursue cases: which are government agents, specifically attorneys working for the government.
I attended jury duty recently where the attorney explained that criminal suits cases are titled The People of California v. The Defendant, the people of course being a legal abstraction. It’s not “the people” bringing the case though, but of course there are many cases where it would seem like bullying, if they were titled The government v. The Defendant (Frankly, it is). In many cases brought by the government, the state would fail to meet any requirements to gain legal standing if they were held to the same rigors as everyone else. The government, as well as the legal fiction of “the people”, is not harmed by the actions of people. Only individuals are specifically harmed. In this light it seems the government should be disallowed from gaining legal standing in courts of law, excepting instances in which the government is standing as the defendant. Another exception is the government should be allowed to bring suit on behalf of individuals such as in murder cases or where the victim is a child and thus does not possess the faculty necessary to bring suit themselves.
Foremost, I want to clarify what this does not mean. This does not mean the government cannot conduct criminal investigations, nor does it mean the government cannot prosecute criminal charges. However, this does mean that to bring criminal charges against an individual the government must first find the victim, who wants to press charges (which is normally done during the procedure of investigating alleged crimes anyways). The victims, often used to gather further evidence or to stand as witnesses, would be a trivial burden to ascertain their consent to press charges. Similarly, loss of standing would not impact the government’s ability to prosecute cases on behalf of individual victims (this is already what they do every day).
So what would this do? It would serve to effectively end the wrongful prosecution of victimless “crimes”. The continued and atrocious enforcement of the drug war would come to an end. Other currently illegal activities such as prostitution and online gambling would be legalized, and rightly so. With the current number of laws on the books most people break several statutes every single day without even realizing it. Those people would gain clarity on the legality of their day to day activities. The benefits of such a change in legal thinking would be tremendous and any downside pales in comparison.