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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Bring Back "Patterns Based Evidence"

This is an issue that has long bugged me. I have no legal training so I'd appreciate any comments from lawyers or law students who could correct or confirm my understanding.

Once "patterns based evidence" was admissible in our law courts. Now it usually isn't.

To illustrate; say a man was on trial for burglary and arson. He was apprehended near a break- in wearing green rubber gloves and carrying a small chisel and a cigarette lighter.

He has three previous convictions for burglary/arson. Each time previously he wore green rubber gloves, gained entry by using a chisel and started the fire with a lighter.

He is put on trial and the "patterns based evidence" is enough to convince the jury to convict.

Eliminate "patterns based evidence" and a conviction becomes far less likely. The jury can only consider the fact that he was wearing gloves and carrying a chisel and lighter. They are not allowed to know anything about his past criminal patterns, or even convictions.

Past behaviour is the best indication of future behaviour. If a man has been convicted for a previous rape and is on trial for another; why should the jury not be entitled to know about his past proven offending?

Conversely, if a woman complains of rape, but has a record of making false complaints to the police about other matters, why should a jury be denied this knowledge?

To limit a jury's knowledge to only the facts of the case before them is to reduce their ability to make sound judgments.

It is a recipe for injustice. The readmission of "patterns based evidence" into the legal system would give jurors a far more comprehensive view of the cases before them.

It isn't politically correct to allow a defendant's or complainant's past record into court, but it is fair and just.

Any comments from lawyers, law students or "bush lawyers"?

3 Comments:

Blogger Blair said...

I am torn on this issue. I think of the case in which I sat on a jury (detailed here) where very little evidence was entered by either side as to the character of the accused, and yet, essentially, we had to decide their motivation, which was a character issue having very little to do with the facts (which were largely undisputed). Information about past convictions or past actions would have been of huge assistance to us.

That said, past cases should not take precedence over facts and circumstances as they stand by themselves, because past behaviour is not always indicative. I am inclined to think perhaps judges should be allowed more leeway in what is disclosed to juries, but I don't think there should be a mandatory disclosure.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Nigel Kearney said...

Unintended consequences.

If the rule about prior bad acts was changed and everything else stayed the same it might be an improvement. A few more innocent people and a lot more guilty people would be convicted.

But everything else might not stay the same.

When a crime was committed and the police had no solid leads, they could just pick up anyone who happened to be in the area, had no alibi and had previous convictions for similar acts. I'll bet they could trot out the list of those previous convictions and a jury would quite often return a guilty verdict without much evidence linking the specific defendant with the crime.

9:45 PM  
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6:50 PM  

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