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Objection, Your Honor

November 24th, headline reads:  Sodomite Blames Ghosts

November 24th, headline reads: Ohio Man Claims Ghostly Presence at Trial Defense

Seeing as how the news would not seem to let me escape the theme of “fairy-tales allowed in the legal system”, I had to go in for a closer look. 

The first article comes from Zimbabwe. In the case of the sodomite, the guilty man claimed in the mitigation phase of the trial:

“I was haunted by a ghost that forced me to commit the crime.”

The other article comes from Ohio. Almost equally mind-boggling, this defendant, a former cop found guilty on 18 out of 21 charges related to theft of property. Here’s part of his defense:

“It’s going to sound kind of ridiculous, but we believed that there was some kind of paranormal presence in the basement. It sounds kind of ridiculous, but there was evidence to support it.”

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t even know enough to pretend I have some kind of mind for legal precedents and courtroom protocols. However, in the immortal words of Popeye, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!” So I am throwing in my ‘ex parte’ (effectively, my two cents.)

If I were a prosecutor, I would love the chance to stand up and say “Objection!” as the defendants utter claims of unproven phenomena and children’s bedtime stories during their mitigation. I would want those objections officially sustained for the integrity of the case, and the greater integrity legal systems everywhere.

One way pseudoscience and paranormal notions continue to survive within the culture is to have them legitimized inside courtrooms. If people are allowed to testify that ghosts are haunting them, then ghostly phenomena earns an air of legitimacy. Whether or not there exists any actual evidence for ghosts (none to date, last time I checked) becomes totally irrelevant.  If its uttered in court without objection it becomes a matter of record.  This makes the hard work of rational skepticism harder than it already is.

The only saving grace is that the defendants in each case were found guilty buy their respective courts. So we can take solace that defendants are not convincing judges or juries of such nonsense. But there are bound to be instances in which these kinds of appeals to emotion will persuade jurors or judges.  And why not?  If I were a defendant’s lawyer and my client had an affinity to believe in the paranormal, I would have them “go nuts” and I’d try to site as much precedent that the law would allow.

Your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my (brief) case.





2 comments to Objection, Your Honor

  • Sadly, there’s nothing new here. Right here in Connecticut, back in the ’80s, Arne Johnson’s attorneys attempted to plead him not guilty by reason of demonic possession. Fortunately the judge in that case was having none of it; he refused to accept that plea, nor did he permit defense attorneys to even begin mentioning demonic possession during the trial. He was convicted, naturally, since he had no real defense other than that … and in spite of the Warrens’ banging the drums of “possession” in the local media, on his behalf.

    We’re lucky “paranormal” defenses haven’t worked in the US. I suspect that, if it’s used often enough and such a case lands in front of a sympathetic judge and/or jury, it will someday prevail. And that, I assure you, will open the floodgates to many more such defenses.

  • Splarnst

    This is nothing compared to the famous (to law students anyway) case of Stambovsky v. Ackley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stambovsky_v._Ackley) in which a judge ruled that the defendant was estopped from denying the house was haunted in an action for rescission of sale! At least the judge had fun writing the opinion and made lots of jokes about spirits and references to popular culture.

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