Speak No Evil…

June 16, 2008 at 6:01 am 2 comments

I had heard several months ago about the (in)famous case of a presiding judge barring the word “rape” from a rape trial, ruling that it was too prejudicial towards the defendant. This morning I caught an article on Law.Com reporting that the practice is spreading:

Call it the age of the Loaded Word.

A steadily increasing number of courts across the United States are prohibiting witnesses and victims from uttering certain words in front of a jury, banning everything from the words “rape” to “victim” to “crime scene.”

Prosecutors and victims’ rights advocates nationwide claim the courts are going too far in trying to cleanse witness testimony, all to protect a defendant’s right to a fair trial. Concerns and fears over language restrictions have been percolating ever since judges in Nebraska and Missouri last year banned the word “rape” during rape trials.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg, claim critics, who say courts telling witnesses what words they can and can’t say is a much larger trend than they had realized. In addition to “rape,” courts also have banned the terms “homicide,” “drunk,” “victim,” “murderer,” “killer” and “crime scene.”

“I’ve gotten a flood of e-mails saying, ‘Wow, you should see the number of times that this is happening in our jurisdiction,’ ” said Joshua Marquis, vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, who strongly objects to censoring witnesses, especially victims. “It’s absurd. It’s dangerous. And it’s growing.”

More after the jump here. As you might expect, DAs are whole-heartedly against the measure (as it would hamstring efforts to secure convictions) whereas defense attorneys support the efforts under the flag of presumption of innocence.

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Entry filed under: Law, Society. Tags: , .

Tell Me Sweet, Sweet Lies I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham…

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jayh  |  June 20, 2008 at 11:03 am

    This is truly bizarre.

    There are certain times (perhaps the current Bear Stearns allegations) where there is some dispute as to whether a crime actually occurred, so there might be some justifcation in these cases.

    In most criminal trials, however, there is no doubt that a crime occurred, the onely question is whether the defendant is the guilty party. Descritbing a crime for what it is is certainly rational.

    Reply
  • 2. varkam  |  June 20, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think that the practice is spreading because there is hesitancy to assume that a crime was committed. Rather, I think that the practice is spreading because certain judges are thinking that certain words (such as rape or murder) are essentially freeloading terms (terms that carry a built-in moral or emotional judgment) and would consequently bias the jury against the defendant.

    As far as other words go, like “crime scene” – I have no freaking clue.

    Reply

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