I was recently asked my opinion on the arresting and charging of very old people for terrible crimes they may have committed decades ago? I had not really given it much thought before, and it seemed a challenge. Two analogous examples were put forward; one was regards to alleged Auschwitz guards in Germany, and other was regards more common lesser crimes? For the sake of my considering, my questioner and I settled on the arbitrary age of 90-years-old to represent ‘very old people’. My response was as follows…
I am pretty unequivocal in my thoughts that arrest and charge should happen to all who evidence suggests of committing a terrible crime; although this is assuming the laws involved are not flawed. Cases such as that of Auschwitz guards, where I would imagine evidence is long-standing and well-established, the process towards trial should happen as speedily as possible to negate the pre-verdict process becoming punitive in relation to possible infirmity.
With regards the second example, I would adopt the same line as above with all crimes of violence, cruelty, sexual offense, and corruption. If the evidence exists then those involved should be arrested and charged based on that evidence. However, some less serious crimes and misdemeanours are just not worth pursuing beyond a given time period, regardless of age. Ultimately, a 90-year-old who is mentally and physically healthy should receive no distinction or exemption beyond what is available to everyone else – for fear of prejudicing equality.
As a digression, but on a related note, I have to admit that I would struggle with questions regarding sentencing. I have always favoured and backed punishment with emphasis on rehabilitation, whereas with such advanced ages any sentence would only seem to be punishment. A society only capable of only punishment is a sorry thought. Maybe with punishment as the only option mercy would make its case for consideration.