Thursday, April 2, 2009

Trying too hard?

Just when you thought it was safe to go out on the streets, someone comes over and murders you. Then someone writes on "Your Views" about it.
The father of Augustine Borrell has blamed the bail system for his son's murder, saying his killer should have been kept under control. Should a defendant's past convictions be declared at criminal trial?
Ok, so, the father certainly did say that, and the murder was committed while Hayden Davis was out on bail. But what does that have to do with the fact that juries aren't allowed to know about the previous criminal convictions of the accused unless the judge deems it particularly relevant? It's not like Davis was let off; he was found guilty and given a life sentence. So it turns out that the jury didn't need to know about his previous convictions, did they? So I can't help but wonder if this rather odd juxtaposition of sentences in the YV topic wasn't an attempt to sex up an interesting but relatively dull legal question with something (bail/parole/free massages for prisoners) that will really get the masses wailing and gnashing their teeth. In fact, it reminded me of this exchange from The Simpsons, where Sideshow Bob is in a mayoral debate with Mayor Quimby before the election:
Birch Barlow: Mayor Quimby, you're well known for your lenient stance on crime. But suppose for a second that your house was ransacked by thugs, your family tied up in the basement with socks in their mouths, you try to open the door but there's too much blood on the knob...

Mayor Quimby: What is your, ah, question?

Barlow: My question is about the budget, sir.
Someone made the interesting point to me that the kind of responses that this question brought out on YV are precisely the reason that juries should not be allowed to know about previous convictions - the general tenor being that, if the jury had known about the prior convictions, they would have known that he was the kind of person who carried out the murder. Keeping that in mind, a Herald poll on the same topic came up with these results:
Should a defendant's past convictions be declared at criminal trial?
  • 87% - Yes, past actions are relevant
  • 13% - No, jurors could be prejudiced
Thank the gods that we don't live in a direct democracy, or at least not one administered by the Herald. Yet.


  1. Completely the wrong question to ask. Well done the monkeys of online Herald.

  2. My favourite part about this YV topic is the strict warning in bold at the top of the page: "Note: Emails that are not on topic will not be posted."

    Due to the messed-up juxtaposition James describes, the question itself is off-topic! Fools.