Criminal Law – Information As Evidence in Criminal Cases
Information, by a broad definition, is structured, processed and organised data that gives context to other data. Information may be statistical, empirical, product or brand specific. For instance, a particular consumer’s sale in a certain restaurant is statistical data-this becomes information when the company is able to predict the most popular or least common dish. This sort of quantitative information provides a framework in which a company or organisation can make informed decisions about its products and services.
Knowledge acquired by making inferences from evidence is another way of considering information. For instance, politicians in an elected office are able to gain knowledge and use it to govern their constituents; scientists can use knowledge acquired through research to formulate new ideas; and artists use knowledge acquired through critical analysis to create new art. The difference between these three examples is the method of acquiring the information. In the first case, the knowledge is gained by making an intuitive or non-deductive argument; in the second case it is obtained by using scientific methodologies or techniques. In the last case, knowledge is acquired through a straw vote.
Knowledge acquired by making inferences, drawing conclusions, deducing meaning from evidence, forming opinions based on evidence, or arriving at conclusions solely on the strength of personal knowledge is called expert knowledge. An artist using critical analysis to form an opinion about a painting would not be considered an “expert” in the classic sense of the word. He would most likely be regarded as an educated consumer-the only exception being when he took part in a voting poll as a method of determining the best painting by a panel of experts. The knowledge thus possessed by an artist is not of the type described in the first two criteria; in both cases, knowledge is relevant but not necessary for arriving at the correct or ultimate conclusion. Some people might consider such facts irrelevant, but how would any criminal charge against someone hold up in court? While we may never know how the rules of civil and criminal trial would be written, we do know that in the wake of the tragic shooting in Florida of a 9-year-old boy by his own bullet (with another boy present, and no weapon present), the public has been much more apt to exercise their common sense when it comes to trusting their police officers with the responsibility of investigating a crime.
There is also a difference between what is known and what is commonly understood. An informed jury will view testimony presented by witnesses as credible if the knowledge presented is consistent with the evidence. An informed criminal justice system considers any testimony given by witnesses to be credible provided that it is consistent with the evidence known. Thus, one might expect a guilty verdict for a guilty person based on the testimony of a witness who could not provide any consistency between his/her testimony and the facts presented by the prosecution’s attorney.
Likewise, there are certain information types that are classified differently. For instance, in most criminal cases the information regarding a specific crime is considered admissible hearsay unless it can be proven that the information came from a reliable source (e.g., a confidential police source). Similarly, information about crimes that are considered criminal “attempts” are generally not admissible hearsay unless it can be proven that the information came from a reliable source (a confidential police source or a third-party remembering the crime from memory). Similarly, any information that tends to weaken the defendant’s defense is not admissible as evidence or fact in a criminal case unless it can be proven that the statements were true.
One can classify information by its content. This classification can be done by a legal scholar or by anyone who understands the implications of classifying information. The result is that all types of information are open to being judged based on what the relevant classifiers deem relevant. In this way, you can think of classifying information as being like a categorization system where different levels exist on a continuum.