Re: Justice & punishment II

den Otter (
Mon, 23 Mar 1998 12:19:19 +0100

GBurch1 <> wrote:

> In a message dated 98-03-14 09:38:06 EST, den Otter wrote:
> > In reality this means things like a fair, quick, discrete trial (no media
> > circus) where only hard (forensic/video/audio etc.) evidence is
> > admissible and everything is as automated as possible (electronic
> > justice -- no juries and judges with very limited power), full legal
> > assistance but only limited appeal possibilities, good food and comfortable
> > cellspace while awaiting sentence, and if fould guilty of a capital
> > offence (murder) a fully monitored execution according to the
> > severity of the crime, followed by cryonic storage. No more, no less
> [snip]
> I'm sure my opinion should be suspect, as this image doesn't seem to
> include a role for lawyers

Actually, it _does_ include a role for lawyers ["full legal assistance but only
limited appeal possibilities,"] although they would be less powerful than
they are now, just like most of the other members of the justice system.
If one would be accused of a crime, he could hire as many people to *prove
his innocence* as he pleased/could afford. The role of the lawyer would
in fact be streamlined: he must present sufficient hard evidence to prove
that his client didn't commit the crime(s) he's been accused of. No more,
no less. Technicalities no longer influence the trial, but are settled in an
independent one. False accusations, fabrication/destruction of evidence,
shall be punished severely (perhaps so that the false witness [etc.]
recieves the punishment that the falsely accused would have recieved
had he been convicted).

>, but, with all due respect, this seems like an unworkable
> nightmare. Most factual disputes worth trying in any court are so because the
> facts are debatable, even by forensic experts. Ultimately someone has to make
> decisions of such disputed fact questions and any "electronic justice" able to
> make such decisions would have to evidence at least as much intelligence and
> -- more importantly -- wisdom as a human judge or jury.

Human judges would still have a place in this system as controllers of the
computers' verdict (other controllers are the defendant and his defense team
or designated others) which is a simple summing up of the known facts
with a recommendation (xx% chance that guilty of crime xx resulting in
punishment no. xx). This system should work fairly well in all documented
cases (audio/video surveillance), which should be more numerous than
they are now due to a much more extensive surveillance network, and
endorsement of personal cams/microphones worn on the body, in the
house, tracking devices on/in body and on property items etc.) In non-
documented cases things like (DNA) fingerprinting and other forensic
techniques can be extremely useful, and often the criminal confesses
spontaneously when faced with this kind of evidence. Furthermore there
are lie detectors that, although still not too reliable, have an intimidating
effect on all but the toughest suspects, again resulting in "spontaneous"
confessions (just confessing isn't enough of course; details of the crime
and things like the location of the body/stolen goods have to be revealed
in order to sentence someone).

The above is basically a process of ellimination: only a small fraction of
cases* remain "unclear" after the cams, forensics and firm questioning
have had their way. Apart from ongoing investigation (if someone can't
be convicted within a reasonable amount of time [a couple of weeks or
so] he is neither convicted nor aquitted, but simply sent home while the
investigation continues. The suspect will be fully monitored while "free",
since there is a good chance that he'll try to cover up evidence or
otherwise incriminate himself. Threatening witnesses, bragging about
the crime etc. also make one elegible for re-arrest and hard questioning.
This means causing physical/mental nonlethal/not permanently damaging
discomfort the suspect in order to extract a detailed confession (no
words shall be put in the suspect's mouth, and a confession alone
can't convict; details only known to the murderer/thief etc. must be
forthcoming). The questioning is done under strict supervision of medical
and legal experts and the suspect's attorney(s) and the whole session is
taped in order to prevent fraud, and to serve as evidence in case of
a detailed confession. Should it become clear that the suspect is in
fact innocent, a reasonable financial compensation shall be forthcoming).

The whole investigation trial is conducted in secrecy (but well monitored
of course) so that the reputation of the suspect suffers minimal damage
in case he's found innocent. Breaking the code of secrecy is punishable
by fines, a large part of which goes to the victim (suspect).

*[note: crime rates would be down considerably due
to decriminalization of victimless crimes like drug abuse, gambling,
prostitution etc. so that the police and justice system could focus all their
manpower on the real crimes]

> While crimes committed in thoroughly "surveilled" public areas might someday
> be susceptible to more "objective" fact-finding than we have today, crimes and
> intentional torts would just happen in less observable locales.

They would be pushed back further and further (from the shop to the street, from
the street to the alley, from the alley to woods etc.) and many crimes would
become impossible (to get away with) in the process. Wherever crime moves
to, surveillance follows (be it private or state-controlled). Many crimes are
location-bound (like robbing banks and stores) or impulsive (beatings by
gangs etc.) and would be wiped out in a well-monitored environment like a
city. Old people could walk the streets again at night, and shop keepers
could focus on business once again. Sooner or later one could even let
one's wallet lie unguarded in a restaurant or leave one's door unlocked.

The places where standard cameras and microphones can't reach could
be covered with surveillance (high resolution) sattelites, personal motion
trackers, guns with auto-activated minicams (the right to keep and bear
arms would further reduce crime, especially rape etc.) You never know
who's watching, a great deterrent in itself.

> Unless every
> square centimeter of every possible habitat is perfectly observed, committed
> murderers or frauds will simply commit their acts in the least observed zones.

Then those zones shall be covered too, until none are left. Also one could
determine a suspect's location at the time of the crime by a process of
ellimination ("where were you then at monday the 15th at 4.30 p.m., if you
weren't at home killing your wife?" --"I was shopping in xx" -- "O.k, we'll check
that right away - oh, by the way: the streetcams in your neigborhood have
registered you at at 4.37 p.m. leaving your house in an apparent hurry")

> I agree that improved surveillance systems will and should be used in "hot
> spots" -- predictable locales for crime. One can imagine all sorts of clever
> devices that would improve on the now-ubiquitous video cameras in places like
> urban convenience stores. (Here's one -- a system in the doorway that, upon
> detection of a gunshot or certain key phrases, automatically fires a small
> probe to extract a DNA sample and a cloud of microscopic tracking devices from
> the next n persons passing through the doorway . . .)

An intesting idea. Especially if several prevention/marking/detection etc. systems
are combined this should increase safety considerably.

> But, anything less than
> total surveillance of all possible locales for crime will still leave a need
> for "flawed human witnesses" in any justice system.

With ever smaller and cheaper surveillance devices (almost) total coverage
could be achieved within a couple of decades or so. Even if you can't
cover it all, you can still cover _a lot_, preventing and solving a lot of
crimes in the process. If you can reduce crime in certain locations with
even as little as 10% (50% would be more likely with (95%+ a real possibility)
I'd say it's been worth the effort!

> I remain deeply suspicious of the concept of a completely "transparent
> society" -- primarily for reasons other than the ones discussed here. But on
> this point, I doubt seriously whether the idea is any panacea for justice.

I would hate to see this kind of power in the hands of any present government.
Transparency is only desirable if the justice system is reasonable, i.e. "anything
goes as long as you don't damage others _without their consent"_. (otherwise
you'd have to outlaw things like S&M ;-) Also, society as a whole would have to
be re-educated (through the usual channels like CNN, tabloids, soaps & movies)
to condemn only really damaging behaviour instead of harmless recreation.
After all, we don't want transparency in the hands of religious fundi's: the
with the power of virtual omnipresence, perish the thought! :-(