PDA

View Full Version : Why can't "known criminals" be convicted?


Colophon
06-13-2003, 05:25 AM
I was reading a story in the paper today about a village in England, I forget where exactly, where the residents believe the police are concentrating on going after speeding motorists, rather than burglars. To highlight their frustration, they have added a sign, below an official one boasting "1209 speeding motorists caught" or some such figure, reading "0 burglars caught".

Anyway, that amsuing tale is somewhat beside the point. The story quoted a police superintendent complaining that the public have gained an inaccurate impression of the policeman's lot, thanks to TV shows where the plucky detective wraps up the case within an hour-long show. He said: "Knowing that individuals are responsible for certain crimes and being able to convict them are very different things".

OK, I know this is the case, but why? I've read similar quotes lots of times before - "Police said that they know Mr X was responsible for a number of crimes in the area, but were powerless to press charges..."

Surely if the police know than Mr X did the crime, why aren't they able to put their case forward and try to persuade the court that he did? I suspect the answer lies in "concrete evidence", but is this actually required by law? Could anyone with legal knowledge enlighten me please?

jjimm
06-13-2003, 05:33 AM
Simply because they lack evidence that will stand up in court "beyond reasonable doubt". Also, they have to pin the criminal to a specific crime, rather than a general atmosphere of criminality.

The police's opinion is fallible. Therefore the law requires that, if they charge someone for something, they have to prove it.

Colophon
06-13-2003, 05:41 AM
I see what you're saying - but isn't it the court's job to decide whether the person is guilty? Why can't the police at least take the person to court and say "Look, here's why we thing he did it"?

Colophon
06-13-2003, 05:46 AM
Sorry, think, not thing.

jjimm
06-13-2003, 05:51 AM
Originally posted by r_k
I see what you're saying - but isn't it the court's job to decide whether the person is guilty? Why can't the police at least take the person to court and say "Look, here's why we thing he did it"? But they do - if they have the right evidence.

If they don't have enough evidence, they are unlikely to proceed, because the case will get thrown out of court, will waste everyone's time, and piss off the judiciary.

I am not a lawyer, but I believe what happens is: police strongly suspect someone; they arrest that person when or if they know if there's a chance they could convict that person; they go to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) and indicate what evidence they have; the CPS then says "go for it" and they prosecute; alternatively, they have to let them go.

grimpixie
06-13-2003, 06:00 AM
I saw a documentary on the BBC the other night on the use of CCTV in Soho in an attempt to tackle drug-dealing in the area. The whole evening that the cameras spent with the undercover detectives didn't result in a single arrest because everytime someone was spotted dealing and stopped, a search turned up nothing and the suspect had to be released. Many of the dealers keep the drugs in thier mouths where it can be swallowed in an instant. The cops know these guys well, and some of them have been arrested for dealing before, but without the proof, they can do nothing except hope that the harrassment of being stopped and searched will drive the dealers away...

Grim

Bricker
06-13-2003, 06:02 AM
If the police officer's certainty was grounded in the fact that his suspect lives next door, has previously been convicted of burglary, and the officer was sure the guy was lying when he said he didn't do it, what would you expect the jury to do?

Is it okay with the OP if the jury simply takes the cop's word that the guy was lying, even if the cop can't point to a specific piece of evidence that contradicts the story the suspect told?

Mangetout
06-13-2003, 06:14 AM
If a person could be convicted on mere suspicion of a crime, what would prevent innocent people being convicted?* - it tends toward a system where the accused must prove his innocence, rather than what we have at the moment, where his accuser must prove his guilt.

*I know this sounds like a slippery slope fallacy, but there are documented cases where over-zealous police action resulted in the wrong guy going to jail - removing the requirement for conclusive proof of guilt would only make this more likely.

jjimm
06-13-2003, 06:25 AM
I've been burgled five times. Nobody was ever caught. This makes me angry.

I've also been under suspicion for a really horrible crime (that, needless to say, I had nothing to do with). This made me terrified.

The judicial system needs a balance between the rights of the innocent and the rights of the victims.

Sublight
06-13-2003, 06:27 AM
Another problem (at least in the US, I don't know about the UK) is that if you (as a police officer) press charges just based on your suspicions but don't get the conviction because of lack of evidence, and then later find the incontrovertible evidence you need to secure a conviction, there's nothing you can do about it because you can't try the suspect twice for the same crime. The police only get one try, so it's in their best interest (and the public's) to not go to trial until they have solid evidence to back up their suspicions.

Quartz
06-13-2003, 06:38 AM
The law of Double Jeopardy does apply in the UK, though they're trying to relax it.

curly chick
06-13-2003, 06:52 AM
If you live in any kind of a democracy, there is a judiciary system. It can never be infallible, it might be prone to systematic abuse and circumlocution by crafty criminal types, but arresting all known criminals is the slippery slope to a police state

If you convict all known criminals, you get a police state. Once you have a police state then the next step is usually to redefine what is actually a crime, based on who the powers that be want to persecute at the time.

It's illegal to be a foreigner
It's illegal to be a homosexual
It's illegal for you to live on that area
It's illegal for you to be unemployed
It's illegal for you to earn more than X
It's illegal for you to go to university

So if you were a gay foreign national with a good education and a big house, you would be a criminal on any multiple fronts and so you would be arrested as a known criminal.

Communists and Nazis locked up all known criminals

Mangetout
06-13-2003, 07:01 AM
Of course the existing system is a study in frustration; look at the case of Roy Whiting (http://www.guardian.co.uk/gallery/image/0,8543,-10104318667,00.html) (the paedophile who abducted and murdered 8 year-old Sarah Payne - NB, the story is quite distressing to read) - the police suspected him very early on (in fact he was brought in for questioning and then released) - he had previous convictions for abduction (although it did not end in murder that time) - the police knew, probably beyond any personal doubts, that he was responsible for the crime.

But opinions are subjective (there are people out there who 'know' that the sun orbits the earth) - what if the police were mistaken? - it could happen, but the evidence is what takes it into the objective realm.

casdave
06-13-2003, 07:47 AM
The police knew that the Birmingham pub bombers were guilty, as were the Guildford bomb factory terrorists, except of course they were not.
This resulted in overturned convictions, huge compensation, a superb recruiting tool for the real terrorists, and the real offenders got away with it, even though those persons are also now 'known'.

Other notables include Stefan Kischko who was convicted of murder abduction and rape except that police knowingly witheld evidence that he could not possibly have committed the crimes because he was congenitaly infertile(DNA evidence years later confirmed this), but he made a very good candidate since he had the mind of a 6 year old and readily confessed to the 'nice policeman'.

Derek Bentley was tried, convicted and hanged in the 1960's for the serial murders at 10 Rillington Place, except that he didn't do amy of them and the real murderer was caught not long after Bentley's execution.

Wayne Darvell and his brother Paul were convicted of the murder of a shopworker in Cardiff in the mid 1970's, the police 'knew' it was them, since they were homeless vagrants with simple minds, except of course it was not them at all and the convictions were quashed.

All the above cases went to appeal and the convictions were upheld, it took decades to find out the truth.

British justice does its best but is not perfect. Safegaurds include evidence rather than opinion among many others but still there are miscarriages of justice.

Read the link

http://www.innocent.org.uk/index.html

Barry George was convicted of the murder of tv presenter Jill Dando, the sole piece of forensic evidence was one particle of residue in a coat pocket that was analysed and said to be from the discharge of a gun. Except that every eye witness describes him as having long hair, over 6 feet tall and in two cases eyewitness original testimony said the suspect was black.
I would think it likely that a person who had owned replica guns, and had tried to join a gun club, would be likely to have very much more than just one particle of gun residue in his pocket.

Micheal Stone - No forensic evidence has been produced, despite the fact that there ought to be DNA evidence from the child that was abducted and raped.

Both these latter would be considered by society as 'weirdos' and neither are particularly mentally competant.

Barbarian
06-13-2003, 10:09 AM
Because it's not up to police to lay charges. They only get to recommend charges to the Crown, DA, or whoever handles prosecutions in your area.

So any random cop can say he's got enough evidence or witnesses to 'know' that someone did something, but if the lawyer disagrees, then the cop can go hang.

Northern Piper
06-13-2003, 08:48 PM
Originally posted by Barbarian
Because it's not up to police to lay charges. They only get to recommend charges to the Crown, DA, or whoever handles prosecutions in your area.

So any random cop can say he's got enough evidence or witnesses to 'know' that someone did something, but if the lawyer disagrees, then the cop can go hang. That's not quite right, Barbarian, at least for Canada.

In all cases, it's the police officer who lays the charge, called an "information" - a sworn statement that the officer has reason to believe so-and-so has committed the crime of mopery.

In routine cases, the officer lays the information with the Court without ever consulting the Crown. The officer then sends a copy of the information to the Crown's office, along with a package of material that the officer has prepared, summarising the case. That may be the first time the Crown has ever heard of the case.

The Crown prosecutor then reviews the evidence and the information and decides whether or not to proceed. If the Crown thinks there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction, the prosecution proceeds, but if the Crown thinks there are problems with the evidence, he/she may recommend that the police lay a lesser charge, or may simply stay the information.

That's the routine case. For more complex cases, the police may consult with the Crown before laying the information, and may go over the evidence, to make sure that they have all the bases covered, know the elements of the offence that they have to prove, and so on. There may also be legal issues that they need advice on, such as Charter issues or search warrant questions. But even in the more complex or serious charges, it all begins with an information laid by an individual police officer.

Wendell Wagner
06-13-2003, 10:25 PM
casdave writes:

> Derek Bentley was tried, convicted and hanged in the 1960's
> for the serial murders at 10 Rillington Place, except that he
> didn't do amy of them and the real murderer was caught not
> long after Bentley's execution.

No, you've confused two famous U.K. murders that happened in the early 1950's (not in the 1960's). Timothy Evans was wrongly executed for the 10 Rillington Place murder. Derek Bentley was executed for a murder committed by an associate that was too young to be executed, so the police apparently manufactured some evidence that he was equally responsible for the murder.

Ununnilium
06-13-2003, 10:32 PM
Also, don't forget illegally-gotten evidence - it may prove guilt beyond doubt, but you can't use it because you didn't get a warrant, or somesuch.

Andrew "NO .SIG MAN" "Juan" Perron, smoot.

t-bonham@scc.net
06-14-2003, 02:33 AM
Originally posted by curly chick
Communists and Nazis locked up all known criminals

Except for the criminals who were running the government, of course.

casdave
06-14-2003, 05:28 AM
Wendell Wagner

...........details, mere details m'boy.

I must be getting senile, oooh look, nice man in white coat, time for my walk.

chairface56
06-15-2003, 11:53 AM
I've been burgled five times. Nobody was ever caught. This makes me angry.


0 times for me, and I'm still ludicrously well-armed and have deadbolts on all the doors and bars in the windows. Just gotta put something between you and them that'll require making a lot of noise to circumvent and still wind up costing them precious seconds in what is rapidly devolving into a firefight.