A murder has occurred. We’ve heard about it on our local television news or read about it on the Internet. The police have arrested someone in connection with this deed, and the world seems a safer place because there is a dangerous person off the street, away from our friends and family members. By all accounts, th person arrested appears to be guilty because there is a short video of the act which they are accused of committing. It was happenstance. Someone with a smartphone happened to record the exact moment when the murder happened. It’s a slam-dunk case for prosecutors.
Or is it? The video is only around 15 seconds in length, it does show the murder, The person that took the video on his or her smartphone, uploaded it to the Internet before the the police obtained ut because, well, it’s what people do today for some reason. Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame. But nothing on the video shows how it happened, or maybe just as importantly, why? Was it some sort of heat of passion moment or a cool, calculated incident that left one person dead, another in jail? Most people, when viewing the video, would come to some sort of judgement, without knowing that answer.
That short piece of video however, a main piece of evidence in the prosecutions case, doesn’t have that context, does it? The circumstances may be wholly at odds with what the public has viewed, or what the prosecutor believes. Who took the video? How did that person happen upon the crime? Was he or she known to either the victim or the alleged perpetrator? Is the video, in police custody, the entire video or was it edited, possibly innocently, to show the incident itself and not something that may be valuable to either the defense or the prosecution? These are just a few questions that should be answered before someone is placed in prison, possibly for life, or even sentenced to death themselves.
Of course, probably 99% of the public that have viewed the video online, it may have had millions of views before the original video came into the possession of authorities, will have made a judgement. The media will have possibly played and replayed the video, because, well, it’s what they do. A possible jury pool may possibly have been tainted simply because most people are, no matter what they say during voir dire (jury selection), affected by what they’ve previously watched. Will these same people be able to make a judgement based on all the evidence presented, or will they only remember that brutal 15 seconds of video when they cast their vote in secret?
If the context were known, that maybe it was someone defending themselves from an attacker, I wonder how much, if any, this might affect the public perception? Of course it should be defending oneself is not a crime, but then, the public is finicky and there may be other extenuating circumstances that informs the public more than just the video itself. The perpetrator is black and the victim is white – or vice versa. Was this some sort of hate crime? Does race have a part to play? Some will immediately claim it does, while others will claim it was inconsequential. So, instead of this crime playing out before a jury, long before, it’s played out in the court of public opinion. Neither victim, nor accused will receive justice in that situation.
That someone is in custody for the crime, doesn’t necessarily mean an actual crime has been committed. All of the facts surrounding are not in the publics purview and coming to a snap decision, based on a snippet of video, may not tell the entire story. Until all the evidence is known, no one should rush to judgement.