Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Let's see the (voluminous) evidence ...

One of the great challenges our free society faces is protecting victims against violence, while yet requiring excellent evidence to convict criminals. Rape allegations, which often become “he said, she said” cases, severely test these balanced rights.

Nicolaus B. Kristof wrote about the Duke Lacrosse case in the June 11, 2006 New York Times. (I'd like to link to his column, but I'm too late; you have to pay to see it now.) I'm sure you have read elsewhere about what's called the “CSI Effect:” Prosecutors feel that juries do not convict criminals when they feel that there should have been lots more forensic evidence, such as we always see in CSI and Law & Order cases. If you feel that people generally believe we live in a society deep in surveillance and forensic evidence, you might have been shocked by Kristof's column.

The Duke Lacrosse case seemed to require us to make a gut decsion about who was telling the truth, and many public figures, police officials and reporters rose at once to that difficult challenge. But we should have been asking: Where are the surveillance tapes? What pictures were people taking with their phone cameras? What about cell phone call records, preliminary witness statements?

For this actually was a CSI-effect case.

For example – I do not want to prejudge the case, because I know I've heard just a little of the evidence, and yet - cellphone records and timed and dated photographs taken that night seem to provide a tight alibi for one of the accused.

I think the moral of this story is that 1984 is finally here. When we consider a crime allegation, we should assume that there's surveillance and forensic data to be unearthed before we judge. If we have no privacy, at least we must have witnesses.

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