Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Finale: It All Comes to an End

My blogging experience over the course of the past semester has been truly beneficial and inspirational to me. I have learned that I too can be a writer, both informative and innovative sharing my knowledge while growing from that of my readers and critics. The nature of the work we were asked to complete this semester has allowed me to enhance my writing skills in a technologically advanced environment that will aid me in my future endeavors. I chose to cover the area of law for the theme of my blog because I plan to pursue a career in entertainment law however my focus was on legal matters that do not pertain to this particular concentration. I wanted to give myself a chance to delve into legal issues such as criminal justice and human rights while also focusing on useful legal news resources and researching information about accomplished legal professionals. The amount of freedom we were given in our assignments allowed me to cover these issues and obtain a more thorough understanding of what a legal career will consist of and what I can expect. I never imagined I would be able to discover this in my Writing 340 course especially in a blog environment.

Throughout this experience, I feel that I was able to strengthen my writing skills because of the constructive criticism I received from Dr. Middlebrook after each post. He made a point to always be available and address any concerns his students had. During our conferences together, he allowed me to recognize that I am a great writer with strong ideas and convincing content. Nonetheless, I do have a tendency to write awkward sentences, which I found to be prevalent in many of my essays this semester. I am now aware of this tendency and in order to battle it, I have taken Dr. Middlebrook’s advice, which is to always read my written work aloud. My previous teachers and professors never addressed this issue therefore it is something I will always recognize while revising my work in the future. I also felt that my second essay could have been stronger both in analysis and persuasion. I feel very fortunate to have been able to be apart of this particular section of Writing 340. I had originally planned to switch into the Business Writing 340 course however from the first class meeting until the very last I knew I wanted to stay and be a part of the blog setting under Dr. Middlebrook’s leadership. To be able to follow the structure and guidelines of the course while exploiting my own creativity and interests was quite an experience. It has allowed me to not only grow from a writing perspective but also as a future lawyer who is aware of the legal world, its function and all that it has to offer.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Scott H. Bice: Honoring Passion, Commitment and Excellence at the University of Southern California

Each spring, the University of Southern California presents its highest award, an honorary degree, to a select few of several deserving nominees. According to the Honorary Degree Nomination Process, this award is given to individuals who have in short distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements, made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC, participated in exceptional acts of philanthropy and elevated the university in the eyes of the world. The most deserving individual for a Doctoral Degree in Laws for the upcoming spring 2007 ceremony is Scott H. Bice, a man that encompasses all of the above and more. Born into a family of Trojans with both his mother and father having received degrees at USC, Bice continued the legacy. After receiving a Bachelor of Science in Finance from USC in 1965 and a J.D. from the USC Gould School of Law in 1969 where he was editor-in-chief of the Southern California Law Review, Bice went on to serve as clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court. Later, he became dean of the USC Gould School of Law from 1980- 2000, which made him not only the third most senior sitting dean of any ABA-accredited law school, but also one of the longest serving deans in the history of USC.

The Summer 2000 edition of the Trojan Family Magazine notes that during his tenure, Scott Bice has been credited with improving the quality of the USC law school by having doubled the size of its facilities, drawn in students from all over the country with “two-thirds of its enrollment from elsewhere" and run three successful fundraising campaigns that brought in nearly $50 million dollars. He also expanded “the school’s reputation for interdisciplinary legal scholarship and built strong programs in law and economics, law and humanities and clinical education.” Bice and his wife Barbara have also doubled the size of a scholarship fund that was created by friends and alumni of the law school in honor of Bice’s retirement as dean. Although he will forever be respected for his role as dean, Scott Bice has recently taken on the role of professor once again teaching constitutional law, federal jurisdiction and torts while continuing his dedication to USC. It is clear that Scott Bice is a man of many talents and is continuously revered for the time, accomplishments and growth he has provided to the USC Gould School of Law. However, one may argue that Bice has done too much within the scope of USC and not enough for the world outside of the Trojan bubble.

According to James O. Freedman, author of Liberal Education and the Public Interest and president emeritus of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, the presentation of an honorary degree allows the university to share with the world “the qualities of character and attainment it admires the most” and “is a practice rich in opportunity as well as ripe for abuse” (117). It is said that a university often awards a member of its faculty or an alumnus who has given the university a great deal of money rather than on more honorable merits. If Scott Bice is awarded, however, there is plenty of evidence to prove that he is well deserved based on his accomplishments rather than solely on his commitment to the school. Bice has helped the law school become a “nationally recognized institution” an often daunting task which requires genuine work within the school that is judged not by university affiliates but those outside. Bice serves as a deserving nominee through his “outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC,” another necessary criterion for an honorary degree. It is often the activities that occur within a school that allows there to be graduates to better the world yet feel connected to their roots that reside in the sphere of their alma mater. The university is not wrong to address the good that a particular faculty member has brought to the school, but rather, it is exercising its right to present an honor. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote to his son-in-law “one should accept 'only those public testimonials which are earned by merit' " (Freedman 122).

In his book, Freedman articulates that “it has been proposed that one honorary degree per person ought to be enough” (128). Scott Bice has been awarded time and time again for his accomplishments and role as dean for positions both within and outside the school. The uscLAW Magazine reveals that his awards include the "Associates Award for Excellence in Teaching," given to him twice, which is “the highest honor given by the university faculty to one of its members.” He is also the recipient of the Robert C. Packard Professor of Law award. Bice served as a visiting professor at the prestigious University of Virginia Law School and California Institute of Technology proving, as mentioned in the criteria, to “elevate the university in the eyes of the world.” Yet, all of the aforementioned achievements could deem an honorary degree nomination to be redundant. As in the case with South African novelist Nadine Gordimer in regards to the acceptance of several honors, it has often been found that “one devalues the whole process if one allows vanity to pile them up” (Freedman 129). However, one may question – Is verbal praise a repetition of honor and if so, what makes an award any different from constant praise?

According to USC President Steven B. Sample,“Scott is the consummate teacher, scholar and administrator” and according to the current dean, Matthew Spitzer ’76 who was once Bice’s student, “Watching Scott Bice teach is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball. It’s perfection, pure and simple." In addition, one of Bice’s own Professors, Martin Levine, who once asked Bice to substitute for him while Bice was only a third-year law student has said, “The student consensus over the years is that Scott not only is a remarkable instructor, he is the best teacher they have ever known.” This statement has been repeated decade after decade by alumni and faculty alike. To have students, professors, colleagues and others show respect and share words of appreciation and awe from their own experience stands for a great deal while again exemplifying the honorary criteria as to how “widely known and highly regarded” Scott Bice is for his achievements. There comes a time when praise within the scope of the university or field in which a potential honoree excels can prove to be greater than what any award can accomplish.

Honoring donors has been a highly controversial issue in the decision process of awarding an honorary degree. The purpose of honoring one who has portrayed eminent personal achievement has been “modified – some would say blighted – by institutional desires to flatter generous donors and prospective benefactors to whom more relaxed standards (typically pecuniary) are typically applied” (Freedman 126). Although this may be the case in certain honorary degree achievements there still remain several cases where a significant financial gift has been presented with good intention. The subject of donors' intentions is discussed in Mike W. Martin’s book, Meaningful Work, where it is said that professionals claim to care about their contributions “for the sake of the people they serve rather than solely for private gain” (12). The one million dollar donation that Bice and his wife made to the scholarship fund created in their name proves Bice’s commitment to the school not on the basis of selfishness but rather for the betterment of the law school, its abilities to meet its students' needs and to honor those students. In the Winter 2000 edition of the Trojan Family Magazine, Bice shares his perspective in regards to the gift as “a natural extension” of the relationship his family has had with USC. Bice also shares that because he and his wife have no children, he is aware of the fact that all of their accomplishments will eventually be in the hands of charity. After spending 20 years convincing others to make a promise to the university, it “seemed absolutely natural and easy” and a truly noble decision for his family to contribute to their greatest ability.

All benevolent acts should not be deemed selfish. In Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argues that the motive behind involving oneself with a particular profession lies in the desire for “the reputation, which attends upon superior excellence” which according to Martin means “money and social esteem are all that motivate professionals” (13). If this were the case, however, Bice's faculty would not have had the need to talk him out of retiring from his deanship twice. A truly selfish individual who is only after good for himself would continue such a deanship for the mere enjoyment of praise and honor. Bice’s reasons for being dean were not solely for his own good but rather as stated in the USC Mission Statement, due to his “closeness and willingness to help” a true example of USC’s “genuinely supportive community." Scott Bice’s reflection follows that “It’s nice when your colleagues appreciate what you’re doing. I’ve found the dean’s job rewarding and stimulating.” He admits that he too enjoyed the job, but from all that he accomplished during his tenure, the enjoyment factor is not his only motivation for staying committed. It is often appreciation which drives greater amounts of good and specific inspiration, which elicits ones’ calling.

Bice’s first introduction to teaching was at the young age of 16 when he was a counselor at a summer camp for Boy Scouts. He taught, “swimming, canoeing and life-saving skills to 11-year olds,” and he remembers how rewarding it was for him to see the quick improvements in his students. He continued this very job for seven years and even met his wife during his final year there. Bice compares teaching swimming to teaching first year law students: “Both groups are being challenged to do things they’ve not done before. There’s a certain level of anxiety about their ability — yet they’re eager, interested, engaged. And you’re helping them acquire skills and knowledge that makes them different from when you first met them." For Bice, this very reality was the most rewarding part of all. He took this ability of his and has continuously used it to demonstrate USC’s Code of Ethics by being “attentive to the well-being of students” in order to facilitate in their success. It is no surprise that many feel that it is an act of luck to have Bice as a professor. He is a man filled with great passion for what he does and, honored or not, he will continue his journey.

In September of 2005, the USC Gould School of Law made an announcement that Queenscare, a leading provider in healthcare and insurance for low-income families in the county of Los Angeles presented the law school with $1.5 million in order to establish the Scott H. Bice Chair in Healthcare Law, Policy and Ethics. The purpose of the chair is to improve the leadership, research, and education in the legal area of healthcare and to better aid the people Queenscare assists in hopes of making a difference in national healthcare. Bice’s contributions to the school are still continuing even after his retirement as dean. His interest in healthcare and its legal aspects is something Martin would describe as “the ‘real’ or authentic self, which is not an isolated atom but is defined and fulfilled through concerns of good beyond the self” (22). A chair such as the one created for Scott H. Bice is not handed out every day. It is only created when deserved and it takes several selfless acts to prove that one is worthy of such an honor. This accomplishment portrays the Code of Ethics USC prides itself in by “respecting the rights and dignity of others;” specifically, those without the ability to voice their distress. Bice also realizes that one can only lead for so long and that changes are always necessary and advantageous. He shares this thought in an interview by the Trojan Family Magazine in which he says, “I think institutions benefit from having a change in leadership from time to time. You hope that all the good things that have been accomplished continue, but fresh eyes are going to see new opportunities and see new directions that could be undertaken.” This is an understanding only a true leader would hold – a leader who realizes that although his guiding time may expire, his passion and commitment never will.

Scott Bice is unquestionably deserving of an honorary degree. His past, present and near future prove his utmost devotion and drive for the field of law, the betterment of the community and those in need. He exemplifies what it means to be a true citizen of the University of Southern California that extends beyond the classroom and the law school into the issues that many face in the real world. His love for law has proven to be a great asset for all, including himself. If USC is to present Scott Bice with an honorary degree, they will have met their many requirements
which include honoring “distinguished” individuals who have done something truly remarkable in their respective professions, honoring an alumni or individual who made an “outstanding” contribution to the school and its communities, honoring “exceptional acts of philanthropy” to the school and the country, and lastly, honoring an individual who has “elevated” the school in the eyes of everyone as someone who is highly accomplished in their endeavors.

Scott Bice is the poster child of a University of Southern California honoree and he will be a great addition to the already impressive list of previous honorees. As Freedman beautifully articulated, “In conferring honorary degrees, I hoped to persuade our students and commencement guests that each honorand’s character and attainment were worthy of emulation and admiration. So long as every recipient meets that mark, a college is entitled to believe that the public ritual of awarding honorary degrees addresses sacred matters and illuminates the relevance of a liberal education to the lives of men and women” (132). Scott Bice will leave more than a great memory for students and faculty during any commencement ceremony. He will light a fire within each heart that will blaze for years, continuing the Trojan mission and legacy of “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.”

Sunday, September 24, 2006

JURIST: Tomorrow’s Source for Legal News and Information

The field of law is in constant growth and change as society advances and new issues and situations present themselves. We use these laws to protect ourselves and live our lives safely and fairly. The typical lawyer is aware of the past, present and future development of laws and is trained every few years to maintain his or her knowledge. The average citizen, however, is not aware of their rights, rules and regulations they live beneath nor what laws may soon change. Today, there are several websites on the Internet that provide useful information about law, current cases and decisions. Given these sources, it is often still difficult to differentiate relevant and accredited websites from those which are not. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 31% of Internet users report using the Internet to get news while 38% report using a search engine to find information. With these growing numbers, it is helpful for Internet users to be able to directly visit a website that they trust and can use on a daily basis knowing they are receiving the most up to date and accurate news and information. JURIST: Legal News and Information, a 2006 Webby Award winning legal site, was created and is currently operated by students and professors of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and other highly notable individuals in the field of law. The site features current news, research and interactive categories that allow users to gain legal knowledge both from the past and that which is relevant today.

The innovative approach to legal news which JURIST uses allows the site to stand apart from others in its class. JURSIT prides itself as being a fusion of “PBS and CSPAN for legal news” while “its objective news philosophy and its global agenda are modeled on the BBC World Service.” This validates the professionalism of the site content as well as the goal and purpose behind it. Some of the more attractive features of the site include the most recent news and activity in the legal world that is presented to the audience. An initial visit to the page provides a wealth of information as to what is going on in the legal arena both in the U.S. and internationally. Aditionally, a section entitled “This Day At Law” shares a case decision or law that was implemented on the particular date in which the user is visiting the site. This feature easily expands one's knowledge while implementing the idea of using a fun fact to educate those who may have otherwise never had any formal introduction to law. The site also has live webcasts of current court cases, conferences and briefings as well as an archive of other videos. The most attractive feature of the site is that it is completely commercial and ad-free, and can be used to its fullest extent without any subscription or registration hindrance. Lastly, the documents subsection allows readers to get a deeper understanding as to why certain rulings were made (e.g., on which laws they were based) – a great tool for those unfamiliar with the field of law. Despite its many revolutionary attributes, minor adjustments would enhance JURIST's current success.

The first issue lies in the design of the homepage. According to the Webby Awards judging guidelines, “good visual design is high quality, appropriate, and relevant for the audience and the message it is supporting. It communicates a visual experience and may even take your breath away.” At first glance, the homepage looks useful with information about pressing legal matters, the next live webcast, forums, hotlines etc.; however, it is extremely cluttered and segmented in an odd fashion with unnecessary categories and links. The homepage offers too much of the site at once, and the links at the top simply take the user to what is already present on the homepage. The Web Style Guide emphasizes that the homepage is the most visited page of the site and therefore it is also an “ideal place to put a menu of links or table of contents.” This is something JURSIT once had in its 1998 format but lacks today. Also, because everything is already present on one page, it leaves no room for the user’s role which, according to the judging criteria, is important for users “to be able to give and receive and insists that you participate not spectate.” One example of this is the “Location of Latest Readers” heading on the homepage. It shows users where the most recent readers are geographically located such as "San Diego, US" along with the time they logged on "12:41 AM ET." Although this may be interesting to some, it is not something that needs to bombard the homepage. Instead, this feature can be placed under the “About Jurist” section, giving readers something to search for and the ability to interact with the website.

Although the site reveals that is it mainly written by law school students, the professionalism of the font and formatting is absent. According to the Web Style Guide, legibility is key in maintaining reader interest while pointing out “if you cram every page with dense text, readers see a wall of gray and will instinctively reject the lack of visual contrast.” Under the “Forum” heading on the JURIST website, one is given the opportunity to read the analysis of various cases and laws written by law professors and professionals. Examples of intriguing and informative content is shown in “Why Guantanamo?” which questions "whether the US government can seize aliens and put them beyond the reach of law" andFive Years Later: Law and the Fog of 9/11” which analyzes how "the lingering fog of the 9/11 attacks has clouded our perceptions, blurred our legal categories, and perhaps also compromised our judgment." While both forum articles are well-written and present new perspectives, the legibility of each is vague and over extensive. The Web Style Guide clarifies that “just making things uniformly bigger doesn’t help” but rather does not allow anything to stand out while taking away from the reliability of the text could potentially bore readers causing a lack of interest. Typography should be used as a tool to create organization for the site, draw readers in and establish credibility.

The most important section of the site is the legal news arena, which discusses domestic and world legal news. The purpose of the latest headlines and stories is to give readers an opportunity to familiarize themselves with what is going on in the legal world and the details behind it. JURIST successfully covers breaking news stories; however, it does so with a very short synopsis and several external links. The articles that cover the news seem rushed, leaving readers wanting more information and details but requiring them to navigate away from the site to find more. Although concise writing is always effective, the Web Style Guide stresses that one should not “dumb down” what needs to be said. For example, a legal news article entitled “Ex-Enron VP gets reduced sentence for insider trading” covers Paul Rieker's sentence of "2 years probation for insider trading, avoiding up to ten years' imprisonment" and gives a one sentence description of the Enron case while leaving out several details. The article ends the short synopsis with “AP (Associated Press) has more;” however, it provides no access to AP. Using fewer links in these articles or providing an option of finding an extended version of the article would improve the current layout and form of the news section. According to the Web Style Guide, links are meant to “reinforce your message,” not to provide the entire story. The overuse of links is not recommended; rather, the use of just a few links would help expand content and provide comprehensiveness of the articles.

In the “About Jurist” section, JURIST provides a great deal of information in regards to its purpose and history of development. It shares names and information about the writers such as how "JURIST's ongoing legal news coverage is written and edited by its regular law school staff," funding details "supported by hardware and special seed funds provided by the University of Pittsburgh School of Law," the location of its latest readers (which is unnecessarily revealed on almost every sub-section page one clicks on) and other information. JURIST also prides itself on the fact that it “eschews sensational legal news about crimes, trials and celebrities, and instead concentrates on legal issues with significant jurisprudential, social and political implications.” Although the purpose behind focusing on more substantive issues is commendable, the very cases that do attract mass media appeal are often the most important. To avoid writing about cases that involve celebrities and attract a wide audience is to avoid a great deal of legal news and information that is important to discuss, analyze and teach. For example, the John Mark Karr case which dealt with the murder of five-year old beauty queen Jon Benet Ramsey had a high mass media appeal, yet is a case that reveals the thought process behind a criminal mind and one which also reveals how laws and the judicial system work to bring justice. A vast array of legal information and research was applied to this case which, if similar cases were covered, could have served to attract even more readers for the site from the current “919,000” into the millions. After all, as mentioned in the Webby Award judging criteria, “good content should be engaging, relevant and appropriate for the audience” which can and should include celebrity and mass media cases without having to sacrifice the credibility of the site.

JURIST is a highly reputable website given its award winning position. It has several groundbreaking attributes that other websites in the legal realm lack. The main area of improvement lies in development of current sections and subsections as well as a greater focus on details. The homepage is one of the most crucial areas that should be considered for improvement. It is the first page users are taken to and is “the most visited” according to the Web Style Guide. It is important to clear any clutter and unnecessary information that decorates the page. The typography is also in need of a remodeling in order to segment the site better and differentiate points of interest versus other areas that may not be as informative. It is key for a successful and professional site to stray far from any amateur designs, which can hinder its viewership. JURIST should also focus on providing more information in its news articles. It is important to provide more information while remaining concise in order to be effective. Lastly, JURIST should reevaluate its purpose behind banning articles on mass media and high profile criminal cases. Covering such stories will not compromise the name of the school nor its amount of readers; rather, it would help increase the number of visitors. If the aforementioned issues are regarded and considered, JURIST will prove to be a great asset to those with an interest in legal cases, a career in law and possibly attract those who never imagined they would have an interest in expanding their legal knowledge.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

War Crimes: Who Really Is Guilty?

According to BBC News on Wednesday, Amnesty International has accused Hezbollah of war crimes. This revelation comes a month after Amnesty International accused Israel of similar crimes. Many are bothered by the fact that it took this long for someone to stand up and make the accusations. Also nobody expected the accusation to come from Amnesty International but rather from the European Union or the United Nations. Most of the opinions that have been discussed in regards to this news are from the Israeli end professing outrage towards the ways in which Israel is being portrayed and handled in this particular case. A thorough search of opinions revealed two that truly differed from one another yet almost served to prove a similar point. One comes from the Israeli end from a man that supports Israel yet acknowledges the two guilty parties. The other solely accuses Hezbollah and focuses on the mistakes and contradictory actions of the militant group without acknowledging the works of Israel. In a day and age where everyone seems to be one-sided and oblivious to the realities of what is truly the underlying meaning of all the violence, it is important to acknowledge the guilt of all parties involved not just one.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Terror in the Process of Repressing Terrorist Acts

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." Article 1 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Over the past few years the U.S. has been under a great deal of scrutiny due to the treatment of its detainees specifically after the 2004 release of photos showing U.S. troops beating, intimidating and sexually abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. After Pentagon's long attempt to omit the Geneva Convention ban, which explicitly prohibits "humiliating and degrading treatment" of prisoners, the ban was included in the revised Army Field Manual entitled "Human Intelligence Collector Operations,"released on Wednesday, which applies to all the armed services and updates the 1992 version. For the first time, according to Lt. Gen. John Kimmons Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, the manual bans beating prisoners, sexually humiliating them, threatening them with dogs, depriving them of food or water, performing mock executions, shocking them with electricity, burning them, causing other pain and a technique called "water boarding" that simulates drowning which have become infamous since the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the United States. This past week, President George W. Bush also admitted to the existence of secret CIA prisons around the world where terrorist suspects are held and interrogated including the controversial U.S Naval Base prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There were also talks of a secret section in the manual allowing certain interrogation methods that would remain unknown to political enemies however, Kimmons assured that there is no such section. These realities, although more promising than believed before will continue to create more criticism of the Bush Administration by human rights activists, the people and other countries.

One of the main grounds of criticism that remains towards the Bush Administration stems from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s claim made at the start of the U.S. war on terror. Rumsfeld continues to state that all prisoners are treated humanely and in a manner that is "consistent with the Geneva Convention". George W. Bush however has claimed that because this is not a conventional war "unlawful enemy combatants" would not be afforded the same protections of the Geneva Convention. The ban does not cover the Central Intelligence Agency, which has continuously been scrutinized for mistreatment of prisoners since the September 11th attacks. This leaves a wide gap in the ban and how it will be implemented. If certain individuals are protected and others are not, what is the purpose of the ban? The United States began this war to bring justice both to itself and other countries under terrorist threat. Although initially supported by most, this war continues to bring more casualties than necessary and more controversy than most other wars. If the U.S. is trying to bring an end to terrorism why are detainees being inhumanely treated in manners worse than any terrorist attack caused? The U.S. should be treating its detainees with the utmost respect to prove the difference in the ethics between terrorists and a country that has been devastated by the work of those terrorists. The State Department which had been against omitting the ban told the Pentagon that incorporating Geneva into the new directive would prove to American allies that the American military is following "common standards" rather
than making up its own rules thus creating more opportunities to triumph in this war. As of now the U.S. is setting the wrong example by doing just that and is opening more doors that will only cause more humiliation and devastation for this country. The U.S. continues the streak of terror throughout its process of repressing terrorist attacks creating more harm than good.

There have been several horrific photographs taken of the type of violence that goes on in Iraq and other detainee facilities around the world. It is important for the public to view these photographs in order to understand the magnitude of the abuse. Although the photographs are disturbing they are necessary in educating citizens who are continuously fed one side of the war story. A Stanford University prison experiment from the 1970's proves that mistreatment of prisoners only creates more hatred and anger both in the officers and in the prisoners. If a simple experiment had such grave consequences one can only imagine the magnitude of the damage created in facilities such as that in Guantanomo Bay, Cuba, Abu Ghraib, Iraq and as revealed early last week, around the world. Please view these photographs at your own discretion and perhaps you too will take a stand on this issue.

Monday, September 04, 2006

John Mark Karr: A Case of False Hope

After DNA tests taken last week returned a no match with that found on Jon Benet's body, John Mark Karr will not face murder charges however, Karr will face child pornography charges in the state of California. This news has brought rise to a great deal of questioning in regards to false confessions and the purpose or cause behind them as well as how the legal system will address these false claims. One of the mistakes made by the public was the assumption that Karr was guilty solely based on his public confession. Alan Hirsch, professor of legal studies at Williams College also mentions that it is a "rule of thumb" for people to overreact to confessions and believe them to be true without proof. According to legal experts, the fact that Karr made such a bold public confession was the first red flag in the honesty of his claim. Scholars of law note that there are two categories of reasons as to why an individual would make a false confession to a crime. These are deemed as voluntary or coerced false confessions.

The first, voluntary false confessions are usually predisposed by a thirst for eminence. It is not rare for several innocent individuals to come forth with a guilty confession in high profile cases. Voluntary false confessions are notorious for deceiving authorities as well, especially in cases where the suspect is guilty for the murder of one person yet falsely claims to have murdered several others. The second, coerced false confessions often involve confessions based on trickery by police interrogation methods, family or friends taking responsibility for crimes committed by those with previous convictions or involving those who are under extreme pressure during interrogation and who will admit to anything to end the affliction. According to Saul Kassin, a psychology professor at Williams College, the case of John Mark Karr will most likely be categorized as a voluntary false confession. The few details from his public confession and stature indicate a desire for attention.

Another possibility is that an arrest in Thailand and the fear of the criminal justice system and prisons there may have been a motive for Karr to admit to a crime committed here in the United States, in hopes of being extradited. Whichever the case may be, the way in which authorities and prosecutors are able to tell a real confession from one that is false is by making a five-step analysis of the confession. These steps involve looking to see if the confession contains information that was never revealed before, checking to see how the suspect's details fit in with the established evidence, analyzing the consistency of the claim, considering the reliability of the claim and lastly the merit of the individual making the confession must be considered. Although Karr's confession did contain details never before revealed in the Ramsey case, DNA tests refuted Karr's claims thus signifying the nature of his confession as voluntary.