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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Trust the "Experts".

Since training school, I have been fascinated by the concept of an "expert" witness. This tag is applied to anyone who is likely to be believed by a court on a certain topic.

Within the police and fellow agencies, common examples are:
Traffic accident investigators.
Drugs officers.
Scenes of crime officer.
Forensic pathologist/psychiatrist.
Doctor.
Dog-handler (expertise restricted solely to the "run-time" of his/her dog's nose).
Bomb disposer.
Hi-tech crime technician.
Scientist.
Firearms officer.
Me: when it comes to "drunkenness", we police are experts in the court's eyes.

I am always smug with superiority when I get to put an "expert" statement on one of my files. It immediately emits the signal that you have done a kick-ass investigation.

These expert witnesses are generated by filling in a form and sending it somewhere. The statements arrive anytime from eight weeks to eight months later and vary in quality from "The evidence is inconclusive" to "He's the guy wot did it." Occasionally they say, "It was actually the 'victim' who stole it". If they arrive before the court case is over you should be congratulated.

My last experience of an expert witness was an attempt to convict a drug dealer of possessing a kilo of Heroin. Being a lowly PC, I virtually promoted myself when I was put in charge of this job and went around telling everyone I met about it. The drug dealers mobile phone was seized and a form submitted asking the Hi-tech Crime Unit to have a look. This was in August 2005.

In February 2006 I thought it was a little odd I had not heard back, so I wrote and received the response, "We have a prioritising system in place. You will be informed when we are ready to receive your item." Staggered to imagine a police department with a prioritising system, I accepted this.

In May 2006 I had prepared the case file and told the court that the mobile phone evidence was "pending". I told the Hi-tech Crime guys that the court date was set for August (it was actually September).

In July I started to panic. I wrote again and phoned. This won me a telling off from the Inspector for "annoying" a Detective. I told the CPS I had no idea if we would have the evidence for trial. I forgot about the phone completely.

In August I received an email - "We are ready to receive your item". I came in on a day off to go to another station where the item was stored, where the property store guy only worked five hours a day and only when I was not on duty. I collected the item, dispatched it, received the result in two weeks: Hoorah! A video clip of the defendant wrapping up white powder in little bags.

Unfortunately this came in DVD form which the courts cannot view, so I had videos made (another week) and forwarded them to court.

September 2006. Court arrived and I even put on my tie to attend. I went straight to the CPS office - "Did you get the video?" "No." It took three phonecalls to establish that the video was in transit between two places and could not arrive until the next day. Never mind, we had the printout from the Hi-tech Crime officer describing the clip.

Unfortunately this expert had forgotten to sign the exhibit label or do a statement linking the video clip seen to the phone. In a fit of genius, the CPS suggested taking out the mobile phone itself and viewing it. We did so and found that the screen was broken (by the Hi-tech Crime Unit). Without this evidence, it seemed probable that the defendant had merely found the Heroin in the street and was keeping it to hand it into the police. As a dealer with previous convictions for possessing such substances, he well knew the dangerous possibilities should he leave the package in the street.

This was when I realised that an "expert" witness is merely someone like me who has had a few hours of dubious training, most likely done via an automated online workbook.


Alas.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright of PC Bloggs.

4 Comments:

Anonymous guv said...

I feel your pain. Next week I am in court for a case from 2005. The CCTV is possibly the most clearcut evidence of an assault ever backed up by two witness statements. My problem lies with the hi-tec crime unit delegated to copy the DVD for court. Twice it has been returned uncopied and twice the case adjourned. After sending it off for a third time, today I get a call on my rest day asking me where CCTV is as the case is next week. Apparentely they cannot find the crime on film. I assured them it was because I showed it in interview. Sadly my word won't be enough and another adjourment is likely while Hi-tec crime copies one very hi-tec CD.

11 October, 2006 00:10

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talking of being experts, did you know that us lowly police officers are not only experts on drunkeness but also on testing whether the brakes on a bicycle are working.... it's true I swear!

11 October, 2006 12:01

 
Blogger staghounds said...

"As a dealer with previous convictions for possessing such substances, he well knew the dangerous possibilities should he leave the package in the street."

O Lord, I never heard that one!!!

Just yesterday I was trying a marijuana case. The drug report was not back yet, so I had to try it as an attempt. So I had the officer testify that it looked like previously seized plant like material that later tested to be marijuana. In closing, I said that the case turned on two questions- did Willie possess exhibit 1, and if so, did he think it was marijuana?

So the Judge starts talking, "General Staghounds has stated the questions accurately. First, did this defendant possess the marijuana..."

And he went on and on about the possession testimony, each time referring to "the marijuana" or "this bag of marijuana". He completely forgot to pretend that he didn't know what it was because no one had told him. Classic.

11 October, 2006 12:32

 
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03 April, 2009 18:43

 

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