Judging Technology

Posted: July 12, 2011 by scaryhouse in Uncategorized

Computers and the Internet have benefited the judicial system in numerous ways, but not every innovation has been an improvement. Knoxville attorney Tom Dillard looks at the negative impact of technology on criminal justice in America.

Forty-six years ago, as a young lawyer,I spent endless hours doing research in a library with real books — hundreds of law books that lined walls, shelves and covered my desk. Today, thanks to technology and the Internet, someone can do the same research — only faster— without leaving their office or kitchen table. Has anyone under the age of 45 even looked at an actual volume of case law? Obviously these innovations have impacted our world and the practice of law mostly to its benefit – but also to its detriment.

Let’s first look at the media. When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, it was months before most people in the United States were aware of what had happened.  Compare that with any number of recent world events:  the shootings at Columbine, the 9/11 attacks and the death of Osama Bin Laden. Nowadays, we know in real time what is going on half way around the world. We no longer even depend on radio and television; we can get up-to-the-minute breaking news and commentary on our computers and cell phones.

That’s a good thing, right? This marvelous age of technology? For the most part, I would agree. For example, when I started my prosecuting career, an eyewitness was golden in the courtroom. If someone saw the individual, described the clothing or remembered the license plate of the getaway car, it was virtually a guarantee of a conviction, unless the witness had a criminal record, or otherwise had bad character. Juries were instructed about the value of eyewitness testimony.  As a result, cases where eyewitnesses identified the defendant usually resulted in convictions.

It wasn’t until new technology – in the form of DNA testing – appeared on the scene in the late ’80s, that the criminal justice system was made aware of injustices committed by unreliable eyewitness identification: intentional misidentification by informants, false confessions, bad lawyering, and bad scientific techniques. It’s a continuing problem to be sure, and one that has taken its toll on innocent

defendants, but with the advent of technology, we’re less dependent on eyewitness identification to create a solid case – and less likely to put innocent people behind bars.

Of course, technology alone couldn’t achieve the beneficial results we have seen. That credit goes to those who know how to implement new technology for the good of the system. A case in point is the Innocence Project, a public policy organization dedicated to the exoneration of wrongly convicted individuals through DNA testing.

via Judging Technology.

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