June 30, 2008
The New York Times, in its June 23rd issue, tells the incredible story of Mr. Biggs, a Manhattan prosecutor. He was in charge of prosecuting two men accused of the murder of a bouncer at the Palladium night club. However, he decided to help the defense because he believed that the two men were innocent. They are now both free.
He informed his superiors that he had serious doubt about the men's culpability and thought that the case should be dropped. Nevertheless, he was instructed (or pressured) to prosecute the case anyway.
However he also helped the defense by tracking down reluctant witnesses, preparing them to testify for the defense and coaching the defense lawyers. "I did the best I could," he said, "to lose."
Mr. Bibbs had a conflict between his conscience and his obligation to his superiors.
Some say that if he really believed the men were innocent he should not have prosecuted them. Daniel Castleman, chief assistant district attorney said: "Nobody in this office is ever required to prosecute someone they believe is innocent." However Mr. Bibb believed that if he had resigned the case, another prosecutor would have been successful in convicting them.
Idealistically both the prosecution and the defense should search the truth and serve justice, but in reality it is often about winning.
We may all be faced with a dilemma where our conscience is in conflict with our obligations. How can we resolve such a conflict?
Here are some suggestions that might help.
1. We should make sure that our "conscience" is well informed. We should have as much facts as possible before making any determination. Even then, we should consider the possibility that we could be wrong.
2. We should consult with someone that we trust and that is independent.
3. We should think of possible alternative solutions that could satisfy both our conscience and our obligation.
4. We should consider the consequences of our planned action, not only to ourselves but to others as well.
5. Finally, we should have the moral courage to do what we believe is right.
As C.S. Lewis once wrote:
"Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point."