Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Jill Meagher and 'The Internet'

As all of you who have not been living under a rock will know, ABC journalist Jill Meagher was raped and murdered on about 21 September 2012 in Melbourne. She had some drinks with some mates, then walked the 800m back to her house.

CCTV footage shows her interacting with a man in a blue hoodie. Her body was later found buried in a 'shallow grave,' in large part due to the assistance of social media. The footage of her speaking to the male was shared by Victoria Police, and has been widely viewed.

As you non-rock-dwellers know, a man has been arrested and charged with her rape and murder.

Now we reach the tricky bit. Any prosecution depends on the Court being satisfied that a) the person committed the acts constituting the offence, and b) that the person intended to commit those actions.

Any decent defence lawyer will be jumping up and down on the fact that the defendant's face has been splashed all over the media, and so convincing a Court (be it Judge or Jury) that the defendant is the person depicted in the CCTV footage will be easier than it ought to be. This of course prejudices his right to a fair trial.

Let us say that the defendant (who I am deliberately not naming) DID NOT commit these offences. Let us assume for the moment that by some accident, police have identified the wrong person.

Imagine now that you are a jurist who is hearing this case. You have weighed the evidence, and you see a striking resemblance between this person and the person on the video footage. But most of all, you remember the hype that surrounded this case. You KNOW that your decision will be scrutinised and criticised, and that if you fail to convict this person, you yourself will be subject to a similar campaign of media abuse.

Of course you are going to convict this person.

This places the Court in a difficult position. Is there any way to select a Jury that it can be assured will make a decision on the facts and the evidence? Is there some way to have this trial held in anonymity? Probably not.

Whoever this person is, I wish him the fairest trial, and the most correct outcome possible. If he is convicted, I hope he, like every other convicted murderer, receives a sentence that is just, fair, and balances the needs of the victims (the deceased, her family, their friends, etc.) with the needs of a proportionate justice system.

See HERE for another discussion from a melbourne-based blogger, SkepticLawyer, who discusses the difficulties with Social Media and Crime.

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