Sunday, 28 February 2016

Criminal Intent

Actions speak louder than words—they say. And quite true it is. But in terms of criminality and offence committed against the law, is it possible to determine from the nature of a crime why it was committed or not?

Also, given that evidence must be presented to prove ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’  whether an accused is guilty or not, how does the nature of a crime reveal whether there was a criminal intent or not? How can criminal intent be proved?

Someone commits murder and his lawyers clamour for involuntary manslaughter or culpable homicide(unintentional murder) while the lawyers at the ‘other side’ of the bench are pressing for first-degree murder(intentional murder). What’s the difference? He killed a person unlawfully, but one wasn't intentional and the other  was intentional and mentally planned for. Who do we turn to for ‘solid’ evidence to prove or disprove either claim? Mere exchange of legal jargon alone may not solve the dilemma. So, someone with a special skill for details and a keen eye for hidden patterns who doesn't overlook mundane things backed with professional expertise will be crucial and very much needed to ‘settle the score’.
Criminal intent is the state of mind of a person at the time an offence was committed.
“I was definitely sure he knew it was Reeva behind that door”...” said the South African Police ballistics expert, Colonel Mangena.  He was speaking to News24 after the Supreme Court of Appeal over ruled the culpable homicide conviction on Pistorius case by the high court. Mangena’s ballistic expert opinion on the case was 'ignored' by the trial judge.
The Supreme Appeal Court also reported that there was “an absence of the appreciation of material evidence" in the judgement. Thus proving the importance of forensic evidence in the Oscar Pistorius case.

What made Mangena’s evidence so crucial?” I could tell by the way the bullets went through the door and the evidence I collected pointed to that fact..” he said.
So, its the mechanism of the crime and the evidence leading to it that reveals how the crime was committed and the intent of the perpetrator—criminal intent. Mangena said “It was not just any intruder he was shooting at, it was Reeva and he meant to kill her.  He tried to prove that during his presentation in court.

In Julius Caesar's murder, over 40 knife stabs were found on his body. One knife stab may be interpreted as a mistake. Two or five? Ten? Twenty? Thirty? Forty plus? That was no small murder. It showed careful planning. Unity of purpose. It spelt a message; you have to go Ceaser, but we have to make sure. They made sure of that... At least, Brutus did.

When a body is found to have been dismembered—the toes, head, fingers, thighs and teeth all cut off from the body and burnt. It tells something. Why dismember the body when you know the victim is dead? Why burn them? What are you trying to hide? (not you o!)

In Nigeria, hardly do you see deaths resulting from automobile accidents being investigated. The conclusion usually is break failure,  drunk driving or hit-and –run among others. How do we know that no criminal intent was involved as regards the cause of the accident? No one is questioning the involvement of the victim’s mechanics or vulcanizer(yes vulcanizer)Do we rule  out family members? Who are his colleagues or friends and what interest do they have in his success or well-being?  Is anybody really investigating vehicle-related accidents or deaths in Nigeria? Are there not incidents that seem odd to have occurred that demand asking questions?

When a man called  emergency services that his wife may have died after falling from the stairs in their home, blood was found on his shirt which—of course, he would have carried her on his arms in the attempt to revive her BUT... investigators found that the blood on his shirt was not just smear—there were tiny drops of blood—sprays of blood. Blood spatter analysis showed that blood sprays and smears come from different circumstances and origin. The 'blood spray' on his shirt could not have come from just holding a body oozing blood. It had to come from the use of force—like hitting the head repeatedly with a blunt object or against one. He had some explanation to do then. That gave him away!

The same should be asked of fires—arson. Why should the fire begin from a particular office or room?  Arson is one crime that is difficult to prove. You need to find the ‘origin’—place where the fire started. What started the fire-- accelerants? Why the choice of that particular fire accelerants? Who started it. Why set the fire? What is the motivation behind setting the fire? Unresolved or unattended grievances? Apathy? Jealousy? Is it mere coincidence that during an ongoing election dispute in court, the office of an electoral  body housing election materials used suddenly catches fire? Who do we assign the job to investigate these fire incidents? Office people? Firefighters? Police? How trained are they in handling fire incidents and to determine whether it was accidental or intentional?

When it comes to criminal intent, there is so much than meets the eye that should NOT be overlooked. It takes an eagle-eye for minute details and a keen observer to catch the missing link or expose the patterns of the crime—mechanism of the crime.

It is this key but crucial quality in a forensics that can reveal criminal intent—the purpose behind the crime...just as ballistic expert Mangena’s evidence was crucial to the over ruling of the conviction of Oscar Pistorius for culpable homicide by the Supreme Appeal Court.
They recognised this highly-sought but important skill that every investigator -forensic expert must have to succeed -the eye for missing details.