One of my favorite British mysteries is “New Tricks” which is both engrossing and, at times, funny. One of the episodes also provides considerable food for thought — which I want to share with you.
The chief detective, call her Sasha (because that’s her name) has a grudge against a criminal who is at present in jail — call him Jack (which is not his name). He is in jail, however, for a crime he has not committed despite the fact that he had, in fact, killed Sasha’s partner years before and is a thoroughly bad man. But he is not guilty of the crime he has been punished for.
During the course of the investigation into the basis for the prosecution of Jack for this particular crime it becomes apparent that he is not guilty and has been set up by a detective years before who simply wanted to get him behind bars.
The young woman who is, in fact, guilty for the crime that he is being punished for killed a man who had abused her cruelly many years before. She killed him with an empty bottle of wine during an altercation in a hallway at a party.
Sasha’s dilemma is whether or not to let things stand as they are — since Jack is not only willing but eager to take the rap for the young woman for whom he has a special bond (we won’t go into that) — or prosecute the young woman and let Jack go free. And to make things even more interesting, Jack tells her that he will plead guilty of the murder of her former partner and thus that crime will have been resolved.
But Sasha decides to prosecute the young woman, who is guilty (in some sense of that word) and let Jack go free. My question is: did she do the right thing?
From a Kantian perspective she did. Kant tells us that we are to respect all persons and the truth is a paramount value in any system in which the moral person stands at the center. The strict Christian would agree with Kant.
But the Utilitarian would argue that the consequences of letting Jack go free and prosecuting a young woman who has turned her life around and is guilty of nothing more that manslaughter of a known predator is the wrong thing to do. The greater good in this case is to keep Jack in jail where he clearly belongs and let the young woman go on with her life.
But Sasha took the former option. Dud she do the right thing? What do you think?