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Silbey on Filmed Confessions March 29, 2007

Posted by James G. Milles in Evidence.
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Jessica Silbey, Suffolk University Law School, will publish “Criminal Performances: Film, Autobiography, and Confession,” in the New Mexico Law Review. Here is the abstract.

This article questions the criminal justice emphasis on filmed confession as the superlative evidentiary proffer that promotes accuracy and minimizes unconstitutional coercion by comparing filmed confessions to autobiographical film. It suggests that analyzing filmed confessions as a kind of autobiographical film exposes helpful tensions between the law’s reliance on confession as revealing the inner self and the literary and filmic conception of confession as constituting one self among many. Through a close examination of several filmed confessions along side an examination of the history of autobiographical writing and film, this article shows how filmed confessions do not reveal the truthfulness or honesty of the defendant’s statement. To the contrary, close examination of filmed confessions evidences the performative aspect of all confessional acts.

Like autobiographical film subjects, filmed defendants perform their criminality, or enact their legal identity as guilty on film. Framing the confession through a film camera (as increasingly police and detectives do) stresses the qualities of confessional speech as always in the process of forming an identity, and therefore as inherently unstable and manifold. Building on an earlier article that criticizes the nationwide trend that requires the filming of criminal confessions by comparing filmed confessions to a form of documentary filmmaking, this article engages the same critique by examining filmed confessions as a form of autobiographical film. Doing so relocates the analysis of the filmed confessions from one of truthfulness and voluntariness of the spoken confession to one of advocacy and persuasion by the speaking subject. Analysis of several filmed confessions shows how filmed confessions are more akin to filmed autobiographies: performances of identity in relation to the constraints of the discursive medium (the interrogation). What we learn from the filmed confession is the limits of film and of law to reveal the truth of the crime. This critical perspective undermines the state’s assertion that filmed confessions unambiguously denote the defendant’s voluntary recitation of his criminal act.

Download the entire paper here from SSRN.

[Hat tip to Chris Corcos.]

Conference: Legal Evidence Visualized September 18, 2006

Posted by James G. Milles in Cognitive studies, Evidence.
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Cardozo School of Law will host a conference on

Graphic and Visual Representations of Evidence and Inference in Legal Settings

Dates: January 28-29, 2007.

Venue: Cardozo Law School, Yeshiva University, 55 Fifth Avenue (5th Ave. & 12th St.), New York (Manhattan), New York
Description of conference:

One of the largest problems faced by criminal investigators, litigators, paralegals, triers of fact, and others interested in disputes about factual questions in legal settings is the sheer mass of evidence available. It is often difficult to remember, retrieve, and interpret voluminous evidential information, and important relationships and inconsistencies may go unnoticed as a result. Tools that support the storage, retrieval, and interpretation of large masses of evidence would therefore be of great use.

Psychological studies have shown that people’s ability to remember, retrieve, and interpret information is greatly enhanced when they organize it in a way that is meaningful to them. Scholars of the law of evidence have long suggested that graphical representations of evidential arguments and inferences could help people make sense of masses of evidence. As early as 1913, John Henry Wigmore claimed that his charting method promotes rational thinking about legal evidence. Wigmore had only pencil and paper to draw his cumbersome graphs. Today computer software may make it possible for almost anyone to construct useful graphical representations of arguments and inferences related to large collections of evidence. If such software were combined with with existing database, document management, and search technology, documentary evidence could be stored and retrieved in accordance with the user’s view of a case. This would facilitate the transfer of a case file from one person to another because it would make it easier for recipients of files to grasp the signficance of the evidentiary details of a case.

Software for graphical representation of evidential argument is currently being investigated for use in various domains. Argument visualization software has been designed, for instance, to support the teaching of scientific reasoning and critical thinking skills (e.g., Belvedere, Reasonable, Araucaria, Convince Me), to support intelligence analysis, and to facilitate individual or collaborative problem solving (e.g., Questmap, SEAS). Moreover, current artificial intelligence research offers precise accounts of evidential reasoning and thus provides a clear semantics of graphical notations as well as computational methods.

In the legal domain, fact investigators and litigators increasingly use software that supports the storage and retrieval of information in terms of conceptual and relational networks (e.g., Holmes 2, Analyst’s Notebook). As yet, however, as yet, such tools offer little or no support for structuring thinking about information: existing software allows users to store evidentiary data in terms of events, objects, actors, and the relations among these things, but it does not allow users to represent how such data support or undermine factual hypotheses.

This interdisciplinary conference brings together scholars and practitioners from fields such as law, philosophy, computer science, artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, and linguistics. The following topics and issues will be addressed:

  • New and current graphical means for visualization of factual inference and proof.
  • Semantics of graphical notations: what are the underlying theories of evidential reasoning, including jurisprudential, philosophical, psychological, rhetorical, logical, and mathematical theories?
  • Software tools that are currently available or under development for graphical representation of factual inference and proof.
  • Potential contexts for the use of such software (e.g., criminal investigation, intelligence analysis, trials, and law teaching).
  • Can graphical representation of evidential argument support automatic evaluation of hypotheses?
  • How can current insights into human-computer interactuions be exploited to increase the usefulness of such software; e.g., how can visual complexity generated by large masses of evidence be managed?
  • Are there pertinent empirical studies and findings about real-world use of evidence-charting methods in legal and other contexts?

Conference officials:

  • Peter Tillers (Cardozo Law School): Conference chair; e-mail address: peter@tillers.net
  • Henry Prakken (Universiteit Utrecht / University of Groningen): Program chair; e-mail address: henry@cs.uu.nl
  • Thomas D. Cobb (University of Washington, Seattle): Deputy program chair; e-mail address: tomcobb@u.washington.edu
  • Jonathan Gottfried: Local arrangements coordinator; e-mail address: jgottfried@pobox.com