Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sitting on the hot seat

You're a criminal defense attorney. A (male) client who's being investigated for impersonating a 15-year old girl online comes into your office with his laptop computer. He tells you he just bought a new computer program that will erase everything on his hard drive. That's nice, you tell him, knowing full well that he was sold a pack (or a CD) of lies. He tells you he had some really dirty pictures of kids on his laptop but now they're all gone.

You tell him that those programs don't work and that the government has people who do nothing but recover "deleted" information from hard drives. Then he asks you what should he do.

What do you tell him?

Now let's say the person coming to you is your next door neighbor and that she's been worried because her teenage daughter's been acting funny the last few weeks. She tells you that she looked through her daughter's room and found a baggy with a "green leafy substance." You suspect it's marijuana. She asks you what she should do?

What do you tell her?

Now let's suppose it's your teenage child that's been acting funny. You suspect he's up to something but you don't know what so you look through his room while he's at school. In the nightstand you find a baggy with what you suspect is pot in it.

What do you do?

This brings us to our conundrum - what is evidence?

According to Black's Law Dictionary, evidence is something that tends to prove or disprove the existence of an alleged fact. Black's defines fact as something that actually exists.

Merriam-Webster defines evidence as something that furnishes proof (specifically something legally submitted to a tribunal to ascertain the truth of a matter).

Is evidence a term of art in the legal world that has no meaning in the "real" world until and unless something is being investigated? If you tell your neighbor to flush the pot down the toilet, are you obstructing justice by destroying evidence? Evidence of what? What if you tell your neighbor what you would do if it were your child? What if you flush your son's pot down the toilet?

What if the government has no idea that your client had kiddie porn on his laptop? What if there was no indication in the indictment that he was suspected of possessing kiddie porn? What if there was no search warrant issued to seize images on his computer?

What would you do? Answer wrongly and you could find yourself without a law license or on the wrong side of the criminal justice system.

The clock is ticking...

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