HOW FAR IS TOO FAR?
If it walks and talks like a duck, then most probably it is…
Well, your mind screamed a duck(and probably made the quack sound), yet in the realm of crime scene investigation, the more general answer does not seem to apply herein.
This article seeks to explore the extent to which human rights are infringed by the urge to break information in regards to public interest investigations, by individuals charged with the responsibility to carry out investigation. Delve with me.
I beg not to be viewed as one relishing the overly publicized death of the late Cpl Caroline Kangogo, but the record needs to be set straight. The conversation needs to be heard, as to the height of unprofessionalism many of our detectives are showing, and how we can turn that around. As the good Book says, the light needs to be set out on a hill and not under a bushel basket.
The recent happenings surrounding her final days have imprinted the following questions on my mind:
1. Can the rights of the court of public opinion and that of the suspect co-exist? Where do we draw the line in the sand?
2. Do some rights that have been hailed upon seemingly limit the extent and efficacy of forensic investigations?
While there is general consensus as to the importance and significance of the famous presumption of innocence, little effort is exerted as to the accurate definition and the extent of application of this rule of evidence, especially in line with delivering a fair balanced view from a fact-finder.
Late Cpl Kangogo vs The State:
It is established that once someone has been suspected and is due for criminal prosecution, then there are some rights the accused still will hold by virtue of citizenship. Take for example, the right to privacy. Though the accused will not enjoy full benefits accorded to this right, it should not water down the dignity attached to this right. When ,otherwise private, information belonging to the accused is thus released, it goes without saying that bias will be generated against the accused. Harsh judgement is most probably lashed out as in the case of the police officer before her death. Suffice to say that her functioning within the society was compromised.
When photos of her lifeless state went viral all over social media, the deceased’s reputation was further torn. Rather than accord the decedent her due dignity, we watched as her images spread like wildfire, with little thought to the ripple effect this would have upon her kinsmen. Something no scarf can effectively cover.
Best practice dictates that personnel privy to such information from the crime scene should not release such photos unless otherwise directed by a court of law, even in that case it is produced as forensic evidence in the court by an expert witness. I will not overemphasize on the trauma resulting from that huge mistake, but no action has been taken by the rightful watch groups on this incident. Oversight groups policing the Police Service would have taken this opportunity to stamp the fact that ‘one does not lose dignity once dead’ and that “actions affecting a cadaver could be considered to the extent that it affected the private and family life of others.” In fact, due compensation should be given because of the humiliation accompanying the flow of events right after her discovery.
What’s The Point?
“The crucial point is that although becoming a suspect does impose certain burdens, it is not to be equated to the status of one whose guilt has been formally established.”Ferguson, Pamela R
This begs the question then; how do we then make the distinction in that both the society and the suspect still enjoy their enshrined rights while not compromising investigative standards?
This necessitates a rather new application of the aforementioned presumption, to distinguish who exactly is innocent and not just in legal terms. Truthfully, many people who otherwise could be serving their sentences are roaming free in these streets when it is very well known that they performed those criminal acts with the only detriment being that it was just not beyond reasonable doubt.
This should urge most oversight groups to pour the necessary bile and let it spill over to the nation. Instead of fighting petty battles about road signage, that anger could be directed to needful places and hence agitate for fair play while carrying out investigative processes. Maybe, just maybe, a high-profile case could be closed in broad daylight as a precedent, thanks to these groups effectively shadowing government efforts and bringing to light what exactly happened to, not just Caroline, but many other victims who have suffered under similar circumstances.
The Moral of the Story:
A forensic practitioner then, is even more poised to lay aside their personal beliefs in the material guilt or innocence of the accused, and hence strive to treat the accused as though they are dealing with someone who has absolutely done nothing wrong. Herculean if you may ask me, but needful all the same.
Could there be a thin yet delicate balance between what the society craves for in matters of justice, and the shielding of an individual facing criminal prosecution?
The weighing scale could tip to either side, to the detriment of the other. The result; Chaos!