The Nov. 11, 2013 issue of Kauno Diena contains a front page article on a young man who, when he was 18 but yet in high school, retaliated (allegedly) against a young woman classmate who he claims had verbally abused him on numerous occasions.
The young man with an accomplice crushed a couple of raw eggs and rubbed them into the head and hair of the young woman, or so it is reported. This occurred in a public place, not at school.
He was brought to trial for this: a criminal prosecution. The judge apparently arranged for what is provided for in the law in LT: a settlement. Instead of receiving a jail term (or, again, so it is reported), the young man was to pay 3000 Lt to the woman.
(Just to put it in perspective: that sum is more than the take-home salary of most attorneys in Lithuania.)
Apparently the young man had never been in trouble with the law before.
I don’t have too much trouble with that result, although I do feel sympathy for the young man. Verbal abuse, including slander, can be very, very painful. More painful than a punch in the nose. I’ve been punched in the nose – in karate class, by mistake. It hurts, but it’s nothing, because there was no intent to harm; indeed, the puncher was very much concerned about all the red stuff coming out of my nostrils. Way more so than me, actually, as I had grown used to it! But about the young man and high school: one can’t get away. One is trapped at school. A punch in the nose or eggs in the hair is an assault. But meanness, especially if repeated, is not so easily reachable, yet does as much if not more harm.
But the situation has a few more facts. The young man alleges that the girl’s father came to his home and hit him in the face with his fist, then went outside and damaged the young man’s motorbike. This allegedly occurred right after the egg incident.
The young man is described in the paper as being upset that the police are not prosecuting the young woman’s father.
And here is where it gets dicey. And juicy. The police are described as saying that this kind of thing is why there is something called a private prosecution.
A private prosecution is a strange legal device by which one puts forth documentation and pleadings as if one were the prosecutor, who is not involved. It is a criminal prosecution, yet carried out privately.
I have to say here that I think there are two very ‘bad’ things about this story. One is that there could be a ‘settlement’ in which a fine is paid not to the government, but to the other party. That is the realm of civil law. (And in a civil case, it would have been easy for the young man to counter-claim for damages done both to him physically and to his motorbike.) Obviously, the settlement did not aim to settle the entire panoply of issues deriving from the incident (which again could be done more readily in the civil setting).
The second point is more or less a reiteration of the first from another perspective. I do not think the criminal justice system is the place which should handle the young man’s potential suit against the young woman’s father. Justice, I think, will not be well-served. The alleged actions of the father are much more of a private nature than of a public one (especially given that significant time has elapsed since their alleged occurrence).
In short, I think the possibility of dropped charges in relation to a monetary settlement is not a good idea and should not be part of the criminal process, and I think private prosecution similarly should not exist. These legal ‘institutes’ are too prone to producing very strange results.