Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Are Juries More Likely to Find People Guilty Just Because They Are On Trial?

I guess I should start by explaining why at gone 1am I am wondering if juries are more likely to find people guilty just because they are on trial.  If you follow my blog, you’ll notice that I've not been posting much for several months and that’s because I have been extremely ill.  I've been more ill than I have been in many, many years and even when I was able to write, I didn't feel up to writing about my depressing symptoms.  So, I’m going to write about what I've been doing during that time.  I usually pick a DVD box set and watch some of my favourite TV series.  But after a while, even that wasn't quite hitting the spot, especially as my sleeping pattern has been totally out of whack.  I've recently found a new pass time and that is watching episodes of Dateline NBC on youtube. 

For those that don’t know of it, it's an American true crime show and has the same formula; through interviews and narration we’re shown the background on a shiny happy family, one of them dies, and then the legal investigation against a suspect is carried out and finally the court case.  I've watched so many episodes this past week, but I have to say, I'm seriously starting to wonder if the jury just finds every single person guilty, whether there is the evidence for it or not.

I studied Law for 3 years at college, have been a witness in a customs sting case and have sat on a jury, so the law has always interested me.  In fact, I wanted to be a legal journalist once upon a time, until studying the law made me realise that the practice of law has very little to do with guilt or innocence and a lot to do with who can put on the best show in court.

Although I'm not legally allowed to talk about the case I was asked to serve on as a juror, I will say that after that experience, I would have been more inclined to state that jurors are more likely to, initially at least, go for not guilty.  I justified this by assuming that people didn't want the burden of finding someone guilty.  But my case was nothing like the ones they show on NBC Dateline.

Now I’m wondering if perhaps people think “Murder is a serious crime; they wouldn't charge someone and bring a case against them if they weren't sure.”  After all, it’s always so easy on CSI and all the other shows like it.  Dexter has almost been caught so many times and that’s even with him covering up from within the legal system.  But I watched a couple of Dateline NBC shows today, where even the victim’s families were shocked by the guilty verdicts, and one of them even said “I didn't think they would convict on such little evidence.”  Have the legal and crime drama shows that can be found airing all day every day given the average person an unreasonable level of confidence in the police and legal services?  Do they think a person must be guilty of something to have come under suspicion in the first place?

If any case shows how wrong this kind of thinking is, it's the murder case of Angie Dodge and the fact that Christopher Tapp, in 1998, was found guilty of that crime and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.  You can actually watch that episode (see the bottom of the page) and see the whole travesty yourself.  But the fact is that Christopher Tapp, who was little more than a kid back then, was harassed and cajoled and fed information until he finally confessed to a crime he did not commit and even ended up implicating another man.  I could write the whole sordid tale here, but I will let you watch it, all I will say is that this is such a disgusting miscarriage of justice and I wish I could do more to help get him out, as the victim's mother is currently fighting to do.

I have signed a petition and if you also feel so moved after watching the show, or doing some online investigation, please click on the link below.

Christopher C Tapp New Trial Petition | GoPetition

If you've seen this, or know of this case, let me know what you think below!  Also, do you think juries are more likely to find people guilty just because they are on trial?

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