I have an odd obsession with 48 Hours Mystery and Dateline mystery. Part of me likes the glimpse into the human psyche. Part of me likes trying to determine my decision if I were on the jury. I have a feeling that if I ever have to sit on a jury for a criminal trial, I’m going to be a pain in the ass. A lot of the decision in a criminal trial is based on physical evidence, but circumstantial evidence is also heavily employed and it’s usually the interpretation of this evidence that leads to some questionable verdicts.
Some of this circumstantial evidence includes character references, though I’m not sure this is such a good idea. I think there are probably just as many people who could judge my character in some negative way as there are those who could describe it positively. You can twist just about anyone into a bad person, and because hindsight is 20/20 you can convince yourself that someone you don’t really like is capable of murder.
Now, in most of the cases on 48 Hours, it’s pretty clear that the accused really has taken the life of his/her spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend. Alibis don’t line up, the chain of events leaves enough time unaccounted for, they stood to gain from the other’s demise, but sometimes these cases aren’t clear cut. And this often happens in the cases where the defense claims that the death was accidental or a suicide.
The grieving family members are often incredulous to the notion that their loved one would have committed suicide, or that they were engaging in self-destructive behavior, or that they voluntarily hung out with the wrong people. And of course they might be right, and it’s not even really fair to put them on a national T.V. broadcast when they are grieving. But we tend to think of people we care about in the best light possible, we almost have to, but this is also why your family and friends cannot serve on your jury.
I think in general that I am a fairly good judge of character, but how much can you really know about another person? And how can we be so sure how someone is going to react?
I remember clearly one case where a victim’s family and friends insisted that a driven professional and doting father could not possible take his own life? But I don’t care how well you think you know a person – you just can’t say that. You cannot say of anyone that they “aren’t the type of person who would…” You don’t really know what people are capable of. You don’t know what goes on in someone else’s mind. And you really don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.
The other character judgment that often arises on these shows is when the main suspect’s behavior in the aftermath is scrutinized. The main suspect gets accused of not responding to the situation in the way they should, they don’t act like a grieving spouse or parent. Granted, the way we handle grief is often very culturally influenced, but this doesn’t mean we would all react the same way. Some people simply aren’t comfortable showing emotion to others; some people may actually be in shock.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in the fact that human beings are very similar. It’s likely that any thought you’ve ever had, a similar thought has been held by someone else. But this means that we’re all possible of having the same destructive or self-destructive thoughts too. And this doesn’t mean that we cannot react differently to grievous situations. It just seems like there has to be a better way to solve a crime than to rake someone’s personality over the coals.
Perhaps I’m just sensitive to this because people always mistake my shyness for something else, but a lot of people just aren’t good judges of character. We see what we want to see, we see what we expect to see and if something doesn’t fit, we judge it for the worse.