Thursday, January 17, 2008

Distributed Dynamic Investigation, Inference, and Proof in a Legal Setting

The business of fact investigation, inference, and factual persuasion and demonstration in a legal context is convoluted enough. See A Theory of Preliminary Fact Investigation.

Matters get more convoluted when the business of investigation, inference, persuasion, and demonstration becomes both distributed and dynamic.

So: Imagine that your job is to investigate and assess a collection of evidence -- or, more broadly, to address a possible legal question that raises factual, investigative, and inferential questions -- and imagine that you are a supervising analyst, investigator, or decision maker whose job it is to supervise and coordinate the work of some underlings -- other analysts, investigators, or decision makers.

You might envision part of your task in the way I have depicted it (roughly!) in the standalone Revolution stack META-MANAGER (Windows) or META-MANAGER (Mac OS).

The ingredients of your meta-network -- the pieces of your picture of your (managerial, supervisory) task -- will consist of the networks of your underlings, which may have this structure

or, by rough equivalence, this structure

Now -- to make things worse, to make matters much, much worse (but also more interesting) -- imagine that this quasi-network of quasi-networks is your frame -- your vision of your present and future situation -- in the construct shown below as you sail through time and space (which - i.e., sailing through time - means that evidence changes, preferences change [or become clarified], and judgments [or opinions] about existing evidence change):

How will you -- supervising investigator, meta-manager of fact investigation -- manage all of this? Will you, perhaps, try not to think too much about how you manage to do what you manage to do? Or will you try to pick apart the different pieces of your complex activity? Would you do so if some parts of your inferential and investigative work could be automated?

A Universal Cognitive Illusion -- Or "Your Suitcase Is Not as Small as You Think It Is"

Flash: A Suitcase Serves as a Nifty Form of Demonstrative Evidence.

"Guilty verdicts without a body are rare,"Seattle (June 29, 2004):

Mark Elby was charged with killing his wife and then putting her body in a suitcase and "throwing it off the 182-foot-high Deception Pass Bridge."

"When defense attorneys in court argued that a woman couldn't fit in a suitcase, the prosecuting team brought a suitcase into the courtroom and had a petite woman curl up inside."

Elby was convicted.

Another Corpus Delicti without a Corpus

See Tom Hays (AP), "Man arrested [in] NY woman's disappearance," (Jan. 15, 2008)


Technicalities can not only get you off. Sometimes they can send you to the gallows.

Pocono Record (December 24, 2007):

Q. The police suspect there's been a murder but no body has turned up anywhere. Does this mean they have to give up on the case? A. That's what 1949 London serial killer John George Haigh boasted to police after killing Mrs. Durand-Deacon, saying he had dissolved her remains in acid so the victim no longer existed, says E.J. Wagner in "The Science of Sherlock Holmes."

"You will find the sludge which remains on Leopold Road. But," he smiled confidently, "you can't prove murder without a body."

Haigh was mistaken on this point, as many others have been. The law does not require a corpse but rather a "corpus delicti," or "the body of evidence that establishes the crime has taken place." Not understanding this, Haigh made a full confession of the killing, plus five others, claiming he was a vampire in dire need of their blood. The police pegged his motive as going after the women's valuables. When experts examined the sludge, they spotted small polished pebbles that turned out to be gallstones of the late Mrs. Durand-Deacon. Also found were her dentures, bone fragments and part of a handbag. Later, the jury wasted no time in finding Haigh guilty and sentencing him to death.