Thursday, December 21, 2006

YouSleuth, At Your Service

They say the Mounties always get their man. Thanks to YouTube Hamilton police nabbed theirs. This isn’t the first time that YouTube has been credited with contributing to an arrest – apparently some street racers were arrested in Manitoba after they posted clips of their antics online.

Now, on the face of it I think this is a good thing. The cops have a job to do, which is to catch criminals. A man was murdered. Some have jumped up to criticize the decision to post video on YouTube, but the way I see it the cops were innovative and used every possible avenue of investigation at their disposal.

Nothing wrong with that. Especially when it’s legal and gets quick results.

But there was one thing I did take note of. No witnesses came forward to identify the people responsible What this has me wondering is if the use of video might also lead to charging people with obstruction of justice when they witness a crime and fail to give a statement to the police.

It was really a random side thought, that has nothing to do with YouTube – after all, video cameras for security purposes have been around for a long time. I think that, after the past few days of discussing personal freedoms, it has me wondering if people should have the right to walk away when they see a crime.

Thoughts on that one?

And if that’s too heavy for you, check this out. The talented John McFetridge is flashing at Muzzle Flash with Plugged. If my say-so isn’t enough to send you over there, the piece starts with the line: Summer had seen bigger dildos.

If John’s debut, Dirty Sweet isn’t on your Christmas list, you have four shopping days left for someone to go get it for you. You won’t regret it. Although I haven’t posted my official top 10 list of the year, this is one of the books that’s on it.

Witty Criminals

1. GEORGE APPEL (electrocuted in 1928)
As he was being strapped into the electric chair, Appel quipped, “Well, folks, you'll soon see a baked Appel.”
2. JESSE WALTER BISHOP (gassed in 1979)
The last man to die in Nevada's gas chamber, Bishop's final words were, “I've always wanted to try everything once . . . Let's go!”
3. GUY CLARK (hanged in 1832)
On the way to the gallows, the sheriff told Clark to speed up the pace. Clark replied, “Nothing will happen until I get there.”
4. JAMES DONALD FRENCH (electrocuted in 1966)
Turning to a newsman on his way to the electric chair, French helpfully suggested, “I have a terrific headline for you in the morning. ‘French Fries’.”
5. ROBERT ALTON HARRIS (gassed in 1992)
The last person to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin, Harris issued a final statement through the prison warden that stated, “You can be a king or a street-sweeper, but everybody dances with the Grim Reaper.” The quote was inspired by a line from the film Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey.
6. WILLIAM PALMER (hanged in 1856)
As he stepped onto the gallows, Palmer looked at the trapdoor and exclaimed, “Are you sure it's safe?”
7. SIR WALTER RALEIGH (beheaded in 1618)
Feeling the edge of the axe soon to be used on him, Raleigh said, ''’Tis a sharp remedy, but a sure one for all ills.”
8. JAMES W. RODGERS (shot in 1960)
Asked if he had a last request, Rodgers stated, “Why, yes – a bulletproof vest.”
9. FREDERICK CHARLES WOOD (electrocuted in 1963)
Sitting down in the electric chair, Wood said, “Gentlemen, you are about to see the effects of electricity upon wood.”


John McFetridge said...

Thanks for the, er, plug, Sandra.

Witness is a tough gig. People are afraid, and rightly so, sometimes. Sometimes, though, there's no excuse.

The YouTube thing is also interesting. Policing usually lags behind technology because it takes a long time for the courts to look at everything and make precedents, make sure all the checks and balances are in place. The speed at which the information can travel long distances also makes jurisidction stuff hard.

You could fill books with this stuff.

JamesO said...

Is failing to report a crime that you've witnessed obstruction? That seems a little harsh to me. You might have a damned good reason for walking on by with your head down - like not wanting to wake up with a horses head in your bed, for instance. Or at the bottom of the lake with a really heavy pair of boots.

Sure it's every citizen's duty to aid the police in catching criminals, but I think the police themselves have probably got better things to do than try to track down and prosecute witnesses who didn't come forward. And if they did tend to do that, it would likely make people even less willing to co-operate.

I've always loved Palmer's quote - pure genius.

Sandra Ruttan said...

John, I was thinking of you when I read the news. I see a future in couchpotato detective work. Not that that's you, but just the proximity of Hamilton to Toronto made me think of you.

James, I think you could argue a case for obstruction. By not providing information they are preventing a criminal from being brought to justice. I'm not saying I think that's right. Or even that it will be. But I could see the temptation to put pressure on people to come forward. Think about it from the perspective of investigative cost. Someone witnesses a murder - and in this case it clearly isn't someone into concrete overshoes - but they don't come forward. Think of all the man hours that go into the case, hunting for the killer.

That's a lot of money. A lot of money that could have been saved if the person just spoke up from the beginning.

Of course it gets trickier when organized crime is involved. Again, I'm not saying it's right, or that it should be - just that I could see someone pushing for making an example out of some witnesses in order to try to pressure people to come forward faster.

Witnesses never last long on The Wire.

Anonymous said...

"I can't remember."

"I wasn't paying attention."

"I had dust in my eye."

"I was drunk."

If people don't want to talk, they're not going to talk, and if you try to force them, I think the backlash is liable to cause more problems that those which might be solved through compelled testimony.

We may hope that everyone be willing to come forward to help solve crime, but I don't believe much can be gained by compelling such behavior. For one thing, witnesses are notoriously unreliable as it is. Ramping up the stress on them by forcing them to do something they don't want to do is not likely to make the quality of their recollection and testimony better.

I don't know the precise legal issues surrounding what constitutes obstruction of justice, but there have been plenty of cases where witnesses have been held in contempt for refusing to testify while under subpeona. Certainly there are legal avenues police and prosecutors might pursue. I just question whether it's worth it.

And James' point about potential risk can't be dismissed. If police and prosecutors are going to compell testimony against potentially dangerous defendents, they have to be prepared to and able to provide protection -- something I think is not often the case.

SAND STORM said...

"use of video might also lead to charging people with obstruction of justice when they witness a crime and fail to give a statement to the police."

OK I was trying to find the article on this but I can't !@#$%$ anyway the BBC (I think) said Scotland Yard was doing exactly this. I'll keep digging.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Sand Storm, that would be fascinating if you could find that. It's the ongoing evolution of policing/criminal justice and (of course) it fascinates me because some of these laws are like a slippery slope.

I hadn't thought of this until I saw the YouTube article.

Evil Kev said...

I think the most dangerous compelled testimony is spousal. Here is an example:

COP: Excuse me, did you see that drive by shooting between the Russian and Italian mobs?

MAN: Sorry officer. I didn't see anything.

Wife walks in

WIFE: What? You told me all about when you got home.

MAN: (Whispering) Shut up.

WIFE: He saw the whole thing, If you put him on the stand, he will point them out to you. I am tired of criminals running our streets and regardless of the cost, my husband is willing to pay it if it gets these criminals off the street

Man stares at wife and hopes she is also in the car when the mob comes to kill him.