How a prospective juror among the general public or judge will perceive alleged criminal conduct will often depend upon whether a visual recording of a given event is obtainable. Where a crime has not been recorded, the alleged misdeeds of one accused are left in the hands of those free to determine whether a criminal conviction is warranted.
The non stop media accounts of professional football player Ray Rice’s battery against his wife has demonstrated the power of the visual in mobilizing public attention. In this particular circumstance the national football league saw fit to suspend Rice for two games from his professional employer the Baltimore Ravens, as a result of a plea agreement reached within Atlantic City New Jersey. This suspension was allegedly based upon the results of their investigation into the matter. Although the public opposition to the original suspension was vocal, the opposition tended to focus upon those with the most self interest in reforming a culture that tolerated domestic abuse.
However, with the release of a new public video clearly showing Rice’s punch to his wife’s face, public outcry on a far greater scale has developed. Why is this so? After all should a punishment handed down against one culpable of domestic violence be different merely because we see the event on video? Is the heinousness of hitting a woman in the face somehow worse by virtue of the fact that we in the public can witness the crime in question? The unfortunate reality is that as a visual society, we choose to allow our minds to rationalize what we choose to believe about a situation unless confronted with the reality of a video depiction.
This reality is especially significant when assessing the defense of criminal cases. Potential jurors as well as presiding court judges may very well allow a visual documentation of a criminal event to impact their conclusions as to guilt and sentencing. When no video depiction exists, the picture painted of an event within a criminal courtroom will be that of attorneys each seeking to influence a trier of fact.
For example, prior to the release of this video many had claimed did not exist, fans of the Baltimore Ravens football team actually gave Ray Rice a standing ovation upon his joining the team at pre season training camp. I choose to believe that this initial roar of approval of Mr. Rice by fans of the Baltimore Ravens was more the result of questioning the extent of Rice’s guilt, than an endorsement of domestic violence.
The conduct of such fans is one that reinforces my belief that those deciding outcomes within criminal cases will often see events as they choose to see them. In the absence of contrary visual evidence, these fans, clamoring for a winning team in their hometown were willing to suspend a rational belief as to what went on within the elevator where this crime was committed.
However, when later confronted with visual evidence of what domestic violence looks like in practice public indignation became widespread and ongoing. Almost as though a collective public guilt has consumed people who had otherwise been willing to look the other way as to Rice’s conduct.
Within owi prosecutions the potential existence of video car cameras is an ever present source of investigation. Although in my experience the visual recordings possessed within these cases is not nearly as dispositive or passion provoking as a battery committed against a woman, they often serve as a helpful aid in demonstrating the reasonableness of a suspected drunk driver’s conduct.
In the final analysis even video evidence is not always determinative of a given issue. Each of us can slant what we are observing to fit the outcome we seek. However, where undisputed video evidence exists indicating a crime that has united the scorn of those who have seen it, the sanctioning authorities responsible for punishing Rice have clearly dropped the ball.