The criminal justice system plays a very important role in the novel In Cold Blood. When Dick Hickock and Perry Smith murdered the Clutter family many parts of the community were affected, but also played a role in their arrest. Many theories of crime can be examined in the text to try to explain why Dick and Perry committed such murder. In the novel, the reader sees the different levels of police it took to track down these two men. When Dick and Perry got arrested the justice system played a big role in their trial and sentence as well.
The murder Dick and Perry committed was very hard to trace for authorities. The murders left no finger prints, no witnesses, and no shotgun shells. Not only did Dick and Perry leave no evidence, there also was no true motive behind the crime. This is definitely an oddity considering the setting and victims of the murder. Crimes with no motive are often a huge problem in our society. It is hard for police and authorities to come up with a suspect when there was no reason for someone to hate the victim, like the Clutter family. Their family was considered as very respectful, giving, and peaceful in the small town of Holcomb. Dick and Perry even themselves thought Mr. Clutter was a good man. Perry confesses, “I thought Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”(Capote 244) This proves that there was no true reason for Perry and Dick to murder such an innocent family for nothing but a radio, few dollars in cash, and binoculars. The quote also proves the true insanity and mental illness of both murders.
Dick is a very mentally unstable person and acts very impulsive. Dick seems to have no ability in his brain to think about the consequences of his actions. This leads Dick into breaking the law. Dick will do anything to satisfy his money hunger. He passed bad checks, robs people that pick him up as a hitch-hiker, and even killed the Clutter family. Money and impulse are two reasons why Dick committed the crime. He is quoted saying, “I know it is wrong. But at the same time I never give any thought to whether it is right or wrong. The same with stealing. It seems to be an impulse.” (Capote 176) However, Perry was deeply affected by his childhood and past life. He seems to be mentally ill with Schizophrenia and struggles with the sensation he gets between sanity and violence. We see Perry’s unstable mind when dick says, “In some ways, old Perry was ‘spooky as hell.’ Take for example, that temper of his. He could slide into a fury ‘quicker than ten drunk Indians. And yet, you wouldn’t know it. ‘He might be ready to kill you, but you’d never know it, not to look at or listen to.’ (Capote 106) Perry is even caught sucking on his thumb like a baby at one point and wet his bed. The only explanation for why Dick and Perry committed the murder is that they were money hungry and mentally ill.
The small town of Holocomb, Kansas was affected deeply by the murder of the Clutter family. The community played an important role in the beginning stages of the murder by community policing. Community Policing is when the police wants to interact with citizens more to help reduce crime by citizens reporting crimes, providing information, helping in investigations, and respecting the law. The first role the community plays is investigating why the Clutters are not answering the door at 9 am when all the cars are in the driveway. After discovering the dead bodies and calling the sheriff, word quickly spreads throughout the town and headlines of the world. The community does not trust any of their neighbors, and sleeps with their lights on all night. Lack of trust is displayed when the author states, “This hitherto peaceful congregation of neighbors and old friends had suddenly to endure the unique experience of distrusting each other; understandably, they believed that the murderer was among themselves.” (Capote 88) Soon people began to leave town in fear for their lives. However, the biggest role the “community circle” plays is what the police find out through Mr. Floyd Wells. Communities are connected in weird ways sometimes, and people can help authorities with evidence/information. The Justice System relies on communities very heavily to help them track down criminals.
The novel In Cold Blood gives the reader a look into the process of chasing down criminals. In the book, like in many cases today, the police first inspect the crime, then analyze evidence, conduct interrogations, and finally the novel shows the process of being patient to track down the criminal. Criminals like Dick and Perry that have been in and out of jail multiple times shows that the status quo of the prison system does not help bring corrections to certain types of people. Dick and Perry have committed other crimes like fake checks, breaking out of prison, and stealing. This proves that going to prison does not reform some inmates. Capote uses Capital Punishment to show that it does not do justice, but rather it depreciates the value of life and morals. Capital punishment is a government action to kill a person as a punishment for a crime.
Capote expresses his views on the death penalty through Dick’s thoughts when he says, ‘They’re mad ‘cause they’re not getting what they want – revenge” (Capote 335). Throughout the book Capote references the criminal’s personalities, lives, and thoughts. The author spends a lot of effort to make Perry and Dick seem innocent and later justifies thier actions through their bad lives they had to cope with. Capote has Dewy mention, ‘a measure of sympathy—for Perry Smith’s life had been no bed of roses but pitiful, an ugly and lonely progress toward one mirage or another” (Capote 246). Even after the criminals are convicted, Capote continues to fight the unjust jury, attorneys, and trial as a whole. The jury was chosen from the Clutter’s friends that were pro-death penalty. Judge Tate was also very close friends with Mr.Clutter. In today’s court, all of these issues would have been addressed before the court proceedings. The prosecutor also played the “fear card” to the jury. He said that if Dick and Perry were not executed, they could have been released.
In Conclusion, the book In Cold Blood relates to our criminal justice system and its flaws. The author uses many terms and ideas of criminal justice throughout the text. Some of the main points have to deal with what caused the crime, how the community reacted, how the police tracked Dick and Perry down, and the court room process. Although Capote sees the death penalty as wrong in this case, Dick and Perry deserved to die because of what they did to the Clutter family and town of Holocomb.
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