The inequity of the sentencing process, a major weakness of our criminal justice system, is examined in "Justice on Trial," an ABC News closeup documentary which airs tonight at 10 on Channel 7.
It is probably a sign of how the political consensus is moving toward the center that a good deal of tonight's hour focuses on the victims of crime who are, in effect, the victims of courtroom procedures.
The breakdown in the court is awesome - from the overcrowded calendars through the unfair plea-bargaining system to the disparity in the sentences meted out.
A key witness in "justice," is a young Washington woman crippled for life during an attempted holdup on a Georgetown street in 1975.
The judge released her assailants on personal recognizance and they promptly fled. Eventually they were caught in Pennslyvania and returned here to receive severe sentences, but the experience has left the woman convinced that "the victim has no rights."
Concluding tonight's analysis of the California, Maine and District of Columbia court systems, narrator Howard K. Smith tells of a hypothetical assault case drawn up by a group of prosecutors. ABC News ran the "defendants" mock rap sheet past five of the judges interviewed tonight. They gave five different sentences, ranging from three to nine years, to a $500 fine and one conditional discharge.
If this program lacks anything it's probably a sense of indignation - which many in the audience undoubtedly will supply anyway.