Innocent until proven guilty, evidence and the burden of proof
While it’s clear that evidence is a crucial aspect to every criminal investigation, the rules regarding collection, storage and handling of evidence, its grounds and weight in court and other procedures are much more complex.
In the United States — where criminal suspects are innocent until proven guilty — the burden of proof is on the prosecutor to prove a suspect’s guilt.
Examples of types of evidence include personal experience, scientific, testimonial, physical evidence and trace evidence.
Over the course of history, the ideas, weight and accepted accuracy regarding different evidence types have changed. Increases in technology have proven innocence or guilt through scientific and physical evidence in millions of people. While fingerprints were discovered much earlier, the first criminal fingerprint identification wasn’t actually made until 1892. And only fairly recently, 1986, was DNA used in a criminal investigation.
Recent work by the National Research Council, titled Identifying the Culprit, has questioned the accuracy of eyewitness testimonies, highlighting various factors such as viewing conditions, biases or elevated emotions that could skew the accuracy of a witness’ memory of a crime:
“Perceptual experiences are stored by a system of memory that is highly malleable and continuously evolving, neither retaining nor divulging content in an informational vacuum. As such, the fidelity of our memories to actual events may be compromised by many factors at all stages of processing, from encoding to storage and retrieval,” the research states.
While lying under oath, perjury, is a felony offense in the United States, witnesses may not be lying, rather remembering a scene, victim or suspect inaccurately.
Alvernia Criminal Justice bachelor’s degree courses, like CJ 207 Rules of Evidence, teach students the rules, evaluation and examination of evidence, consideration of witnesses, laws of search and seizure, and court procedures from perspective of moving evidence into court proceedings.
The proper collection, storage and handling of evidence is a crucial component to a criminal investigation. Criminologists in every profession need to be aware of the importance of proper evidence management and procedures to maintain privacy, accuracy and the protection of the rights of every person involved.