Ohio rape case: Evidence on social media creates new world for justice (+video)
Investigators in the Ohio rape case confiscated electronic devices from those involved. Evidence from social media allows jurors to rely more on common sense and less on expert testimony.
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In Chicago, the strategy was used to investigate Keith Cozart, a rap star known as Chief Keef, who bragged on Twitter after a rival was gunned down in September. Mr. Cozart was also known for YouTube clips in which he mocked the slain victim.Skip to next paragraph
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Another local rapper named Lil Reese, whose real name is Tavares Taylor, came under scrutiny in October following the release of an online video to multiple hip-hop sites that show him severely beating an unidentified woman at a party. He was not charged because the woman could not be identified.
“When your morality is so degraded that you do these thing in the first place, whether it’s beating somebody up or, even worse, raping someone, the appeal for some people is, as a part of that process, to proclaim to the world you did that and have documentation,” Mr. Levinson says.
He cautions against blaming the technology itself, but says that the rapid ease of taking videos and interacting with others is merely enabling certain people to capitalize on their darker predispositions.
“What that suggests is there are some people who unfortunately have violent tendencies, but, to them, it seems a good thing and so that’s why there’s almost this compulsion to make a recording of it to get it out,” he adds.
Indeed, the rise in school bullying has also been attributed to the increased proliferation of social media. According to a report published by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in November 2011, 88 percent of teenagers using social networks have witnessed others being mean and cruel on social network sites. The incidents can then lead to physical altercations.
In the Ohio case, no physical evidence of the alleged rape exists, which means the looming court battle, scheduled for Feb. 13, will focus strictly on the interpretation of the media evidence.
The dynamic is creating a “whole new world” in the criminal justice system, says Lisa Smith, an attorney who specializes in domestic violence cases and who teaches law at Brooklyn Law School. Unlike traditional cases involving DNA, or other science-based evidence, where one side might rely on the testimony of a medical professional to guide the jury through their interpretation of a certain theory, cases involving text messages, mobile videos, and Facebook and Twitter postings as evidence hang on the direct values and behaviors of the jurors themselves.
“The average juror has no way to know which cardiologist is telling the truth,” she says. “But when it comes to Facebook and photos and text messages, they are going to use their own common sense and make judgments based on their own personal experience.”
Today investigators are trained to immediately seek out any digital evidence left behind on phones, tablets, and personal computers, and attorneys are now prepared to argue cases based on the interpretation of those messages and images, Ms. Smith says. What can be recovered can be conversations related to the planning of the crime, the post-discussion of the crime, or video or photo evidence of the crime itself.
Why this is an emerging trend has to do with the relative age of those involved: usually those of the Millennial generation or younger who have grown up with digital media and are conditioned to record and transmit most aspects of their lives – even if those details are criminal.
“In almost every case I’ve seen in the last year involving young people, there’s been some kind of documentation of the incident,” Smith says.
“This is what they do all day long and it doesn’t make any difference with the substance of they’re documenting,” she adds. “There is no thought process. You have to think of it as automatic, regardless of what they document, as it is to breathe. There is no judgment.”
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