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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Essay on Reasons why a Defendant Should not be Placed Behind an Opaque Screen

Essay on Reasons why a Defendant Should not be Placed Behind an Opaque Screen - A Criminal Justice System Essay


In all criminal prosecutions, the State is required to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of a crime.  Determining proof beyond reasonable doubt is tricky.  Proof beyond reasonable doubt is not susceptible of any mathematical percentage.  Indeed one who proclaims that the standard percentage is 70% or 80% or 90% is committing a serious mistake as the determination of the evidence presented in court and its relevance, pertinence, admissibility to the courtroom proceedings is incapable of mathematical estimation.  It all depends on the totality of the evidence presented in court. 
Though the Supreme Court frowns upon any technical definition of the term proof beyond reasonable doubt, Justice Ginsberg once defined proof beyond reasonable doubt as “proof that leaves you firmly convinced of the defendant’s guilt. (Linda Greenhouse 2)  Thus, in arriving at the proper standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt it is suggested that it is not necessary to overcome every possible doubt since it is a reality that there are a few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty.  If based on the evidence presented, the jury or the judge is firmly convinced that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged, then judgment must be rendered against him.  If, on the other hand, the jury or the judge finds that he is not guilty then they must give him the benefit of the doubt and find him not guilty. 
 In the absence of such a degree of the guilt of the accused, the accused is entitled to an acquittal.  This is so regardless of the personal opinions of the jurors or the judge, or regardless of the defendant’s character, and even regardless of the number of his prior criminal convictions.  Because criminal trials either result in the deprivation of liberty and in some cases even the life of the accused, the law requires the state to be able to discharge this burden before the accused is punished for the crime.  It is not sufficient that the preponderance of evidence or that clear and convincing evidence points to the accused. 
            Since criminal trials do not take into account the character, reputation, or past criminal convictions of the accused in determining his guilt, theoretically there should be no objection in requiring the defendant to be placed behind an opaque screen so that no one can see the accused.  Since what matters most is the physical, documentary and testimonial evidence that are presented during the trial then hiding the accused behind a screen should not have a detrimental effect on the criminal justice system.  After all, that only face that should be seen during criminal trials is the face of evidence. 
            In practice, however, placing the accused behind an opaque screen would do no good to himself and to the criminal justice system.  From the point of view of the jurors, seeing the accused at the time the witnesses and other physical evidence are being presented is very essential.  In determining whether the accused is guilty of a crime or not, the jurors and the judges have to take into account every piece of evidence presented in court.  Oftentimes, the pieces of evidence presented before them are conflicting.  Some evidence will support the theory that the accused is innocent.  On the other hand, some evidence will lend support to the idea that the accused is guilty.  In these situations, the jurors or the judges have to analyze the totality of the evidence which may also include the demeanor of the accused at the time these pieces of evidence are being presented in court.  The hand gestures, the posture, the perspiration pouring over his skin and his overall reaction and appearance at the time a witness who is giving the testimony against him is presented are important pieces of evidence that should be taken into account by a juror or judge.     Perspiration and discomfort while inside a fully air-conditioned room when taken together with all the other evidence could be signs that the accused is guilty.  In cases of rape or physical abuse, the fear and cries of a woman upon seeing may indicate, together with other evidence, that she is indeed a victim of rape.    
            From the point of view of the prosecutor, placing the accused behind an opaque screen will deprive him of the opportunity to see the reaction of the accused at the time of cross-examination.  Psychologists say that it is relatively easier for a person to lie when the person he is lying to cannot see him.  The same is true for the person being lied to who may easily be led to believe what the other person is saying because he does not have the opportunity to examine the facial expression and the overall demeanor of the person lying.  At the time the defendant is cross-examined, the prosecutor would want to personally ask him questions and look at the accused straight in the eye because the prosecutor knows that it is harder for a person to lie when the person asking him questions is in front of him.  On the other hand, if the accused will be allowed to answer questions while being hidden inside opaque screen then it will be much easier for him to lie because no one would see his reaction or what he is doing behind the screen. 
            From the point of view of the defendant, it will depend on whether he is telling the truth or not.  If he has done nothing wrong, then he need not hide from anybody.  He can speak his mind and tell before the judge, jury and the prosecutor what he knows and show them that he has nothing to hide.  It would, in fact, be in his best interest if the jurors and the judge will see him.  On the other hand, if the accused is guilty of the crime, he would much rather prefer to be hidden behind the comfort of an opaque screen.  As previously stated, for an accused who is guilty of a crime, it would be in his best interest if he will be hidden behind opaque screens.  It must however be stressed that choosing to hide behind an opaque screen may create a bad impression on the jurors and the judge.  The jurors and the judge may think that the reason why he preferred the screens is that the person is hiding something from the court which may affect his case.
            Within the context of fairness, truth and justice, it is in the best interest of everybody if the accused will not be hidden behind opaque screens.  One reason is that the accused, his facial expression, hand gestures, mannerisms, overall appearance at the time he is presented in court and at the time the other witnesses are presented in court are also pieces of evidence that can help in the resolution of the case.  As part of evidence, they are entitled to have access to this piece of evidence.  The prosecution, the jurors, the judges and even the public, who are outraged by the crime committed, have the right to know all these things about the accused.  They cannot be deprived of the opportunity to see the accused at the time he is presented as witness. 
            Another reason is that our criminal justice system rests on the principles of fairness and equality.  In principle, the court admonishes the lawyers from making any surprises during the trial.  Lawyers of the prosecutor and the defense have the opportunity to avail of the different modes of discovery procedures.  The purpose of this is so that the cards will be laid on the table as early as possible.  No surprises are allowed because the same is unfair to the other party.  The same principle applies if we will allow the defendant to choose to be hidden behind opaque screens.  

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