Technically not guilty?

In Law and Order SVU, judges often throw out evidence like confessions, murder weapons, key evidence, crime scenes, because these things were obtained in violation of the defendant’s due process rights.

In one case, the killer confessed to his crimes and led police to the bodies.
When he was initially questioned, he mentioned that he had a current lawsuit for some minor crime, and when asked if he wanted a lawyer, he declined.

The judge threw out the confession, and the bodies (i.e. evidence that the murder victim was dead), because the killer had a current case, and when they mention this, the police are supposed to give the client their lawyer even if they decline it.

In a later episode, we see that this case is being covered (some time before it begins) on the news, where the reporters mention that the killer’s confession and the bodies were banned from being mentioned, including the mother’s baby, because there is no allowable physical evidence that the baby was dead (as her dead body was thrown out).

If you had seen the news report, and were on the jury in this case, would you ignore the fact you were only supposed to use the evidence presented in the case to make your verdict, and find this guy rightfully guilty, or would you allow this ridiculously stupid loophole to let the guy get away with murder (and he was found not guilty)?

I sure wouldn’t have listened to any of his testimony, I wouldn’t have cared what the judge said, I would be making sure he was found guilty no matter what.

(also, 222,222nd thread on this board, hooray for repeating numbers!)

If you had seen the news report, you wouldn’t be on the jury. That’s one of the questions they ask in voir dire.

And with no evidence, the case would probably not go before a jury.

I suppose it’s worth pointing out that TV Crime dramas are not exactly accurate is all respects, Confessions and evidence of dead bodies are very rarely suppressed.

ETA. If I did get on this jury I would certainly try to live up to my oath and decide the case on only the facts presented in court.

You knew this guy was going to get off, so you lied about that to make sure he didn’t.

I have served on two juries, including a first degree murder trial. I take my role as a juror very seriously. If I had seen news reports that compromised my ability to decide a case according to the law, I would have mentioned it in voir dire, or brought it up to the judge later if necessary. I was very careful during deliberations to follow the judge’s instructions, even if they involved not referencing certain facts. For example, one of the witnesses in the murder trial was brought in to the courtroom shackeled and wearing an orange jump suit. When he took the stand, he declined to answer any questions. On a later day, he was brought back (still shackeled and in orange), and this time he did answer the questions. We were told to make no inference from his situation or initial refusal to testify. As far as I could tell, the entire jury followed those instructions, considering that man’s testimony as given, and weighing his credibility based only on the facts presented.

Amazingly, the case was very much like an episode of Law & Order, right down to the appropriately ethnically mixed cop partners and the cute blonde DNA expert who looked like she came from central casting, not to mention the giant bloody knife that was passed around in an evidence bag. What was different was that we had to consider all of the evidence, not just the few key moments that are shown on television. The one thing I have learned from serving on a jury is that what seems simple and straightforward in a T.V. drama or a news report is really a complex set of circumstances and evidence that don’t necessarily lead to a neat conclusion. Following the instructions as given is one way to ensure that you aren’t jumping to an obvious but erroneous conclusion.

So even if you knew the exact details of how the confession and bodies were thrown out, with the killer waiving his right to a lawyer and leading the police voluntarily to the bodies, all just to scam his way out of two murders, you still wouldn’t convict?

As I recall, there’s some precedent that a person’s having a lawyer in case A does not give him the protection that the police cannot question him without his lawyer in case B - PROVIDED the cases are not related.

In this episode, I sure hope the whole offer of lawyer and decline was caught on tape.

I wonder if, when you have a lawyer for a case, can the police ask/offer you the chance to decline to have your lawyer present? I assume that question has to be put to the suspect while his lawyer is present.

Where’s the line? If the police dangle him over the side of the building by one ankle until he confesses, or if they beat him to a pulp or cover him with cigarette burns or put electrodes on his genitals, should he still be convicted if he confesses and leads them to the body? How about if the just drug him, or if they interrogate him for 20 hours straight without water until he breaks?

If society degenerates to that level, do you think the same society would prosecute police officers who commit these crimes? The evidence exclusion rule is there because the only way to emphasize that rules must be followed is to make breaking them pointless - and it avoids having to decide whether to make a felon of every officer who crosses the line.

(Note that - IANAL - in Canada the rule is hedged with “admission of evidence would bring administration of justice into disrepute” so blatant violations of rules can get evidence tossed unless it is strongly points to guilt and the justice system’s reputation would be harmed more by excluding it, than by allowing the misconduct of the officers. )

If I can lie to make the “right” result happen, then anybody else can lie too, including the cops who say they heard the confession or the videographer presenting his confession as an accurate and unmanipulated film. At that point, the whole thing degenerates into a charade and a mockery.

And the verdicts were …?


Not to hijack this, but IIRC they did an episode where the accused keeps pathetically asking to talk to his mom, and the District Attorney later chews out the cops for ignoring the teen’s request and getting a confession. Hey, he was over eighteen, right? So what’s the big deal? “The big deal is, his MOTHER is a LAWYER!”

Only in TVLand would that have mattered, unless the guy had said, “I want to talk to my mother, who is also my lawyer”.

So how far does this technicality stuff go? If they raid a suspect’s house and find a pile of dead bodies would the police as well as releasing him return his property, ie the corpses? On what grounds could they keep them? And how if he had a few victims chained in the cellar? Would they too, no doubt vigorously protesting, have to be returned? Although I guess that they too could obtain counsel and we could let all the lawyers fight it out in the cellar.

Moderator Action

Since this is seeking opinions, let’s move it to our opinion forum.

Moving thread from General Questions to In My Humble Opinion.

Found for the defense in the civil trial, after a Law and Order-worthy slip by a witness on the stand. The witness was asked to name the company responsible for the injury, which had occured many years earlier, and named the wrong company. There was an audible gasp in the courtroom. Although the attorney was able to correct the error – asking the witness if he misspoke and eliciting the correct answer, it derailed the plaintiff’s case, which wasn’t very strong to begin with.

Found the accused guilty of first degree murder in the criminal trial. We believed the shackeled witness, who to his credit had reported the murder to the police within seconds of it happening.

If I learned this information outside of the trial, then it’s unlikely that I would be serving on the jury, since I would have reported it to the court. If I learned it during the trial, but was told to disregard it per the rules of evidence, then I would disregard it, and reach my verdict based on the evidence that was presented for my consideration.

As I said, what I have learned from serving is that circumstances that seem simple on T.V. or in the news media can be extremely complex, and it’s not up to me to make decisions about the law.

If the dead bodies are in plain sight or otherwise discovered through a reasonable search, that’s good evidence (assuming the raid was itself legal). If the cops, e.g., had a valid search warrant looking for a stolen car in the garage and found a dead body in the garage instead of (or in addition to) the car, the dead body is admissible evidence.

If the cops had a valid search warrant looking for a stolen car in the garage and they instead started digging holes in the basement, whatever they find in the basement is probably excluded because that wasn’t a search within the scope of the warrant (who buries stolen cars in the basement floor?). Similarly, if they had no warrant at all and no other legal grounds such as exigent circumstances for the raid, what they found in the basement is probably not admissible. (On the other hand, dead bodies aren’t going to be returned because most jurisdictions have laws about care and handling of corpses. Similarly, your stash of illegal drugs isn’t being returned, no matter how inadmissible the seizure, because the drugs themselves are illegal, and as soon as they handed the drugs to you, they can arrest you again.)

And living people aren’t property.

It isn’t a “ridiculously stupid loophole”. One of the reasons it was put there was to punish the police if they fail to respect a citizen’s rights.

No, I would not reward the police for their misbehavior.
While the example cited involves a fairly obscure violation, that isn’t really my call to make, it is the judge’s. He felt the officers should have known what they were doing was illegal.

“Inevitable discovery”. If the police can convince a judge that they would have searched the place anyway. for example, they could argue they the pile of dead bodies would have begun to smell, prompting calls from the neighbors.
For searching his house, inevitable discovery is pretty easy: “He’s a suspect, we would have asked (a judge) to search his house eventually.” The problem comes when it is some random piece of land far away where the body is found. Would you have gone there and looked if he hadn’t told you to?

Of course they would not be returned. That’s just silly.
Similarly, and stolen property found during the search would be returned to its owner.
HOWEVER, they cannot use the fact that they found such things as evidence in court, since it was illegally obtained.

My father taught Public Speaking, among other things, and did a lot of work with adults returning to college later in life.
One of his students was a Police Detective whose 15 minute speech was about following the rules with warrants.
He gave an example from his own life: Search warrant was issued for stolen property, while searching he found shoes that matched distinctive footprints at the crime scene, so he took them.
They were ruled inadmissible because the warrant didn’t cover the shoes.
He said what he should have done was station an officer to watch the shoes while he got a judge to issue a new warrant for clothing the burglar had worn, with his probable cause for believing he would find them there being that he had seen them there while searching for stolen property.

That is exactly the kind of procedural accuracy that makes for boring television, so I pretend it happened off-screen.

(By “Watch the shoes”, I mean stand outside the closet while the rest of the search is going on. New warrant should be like 20 minutes.)

Side note: the same Detective said that if you find yourself having to shoot an intruder in your home and the intruder falls out the window after you shot him, you should go outside and throw him back through the window.
You won’t be fooling anybody, but according to him it can make a world of difference in how the case goes if the paperwork says “body found inside” as opposed to “body found outside”.
This was decades ago and far away, and I’m not sure it was good advice at the time. I sure hope I never get to find out.

You generally don’t know much if anything about a case when going through jury selection, so highly doubtful you would even think about lying.

You do realise “this technicality stuff” is the Constitution, right?

In other words, part of the supreme law of the land, and entrenched in the Constitution after centuries of development in England, to protect the rights of the citizen from the overweening power of the state?