Tuesday, August 19, 2008
(It's The) Story Of My Life: Judge Finds Biographical Screenplay Inadmissible In Dinnertime bandit Case
This April, I posted about University of Kentucky College of Law Professor Andrea Dennis' fascinating article, Poetic (In)Justice? Rap Music Lyrics as Art, Life, and Criminal Evidence, 31 Colum. J.L. & Arts 1 (2007). I noted that in the article, Dennis contended that courts almost always allow for the admission of defendant-authored rap music lyrics as substantive criminal evidence. I also noted that one of her arguments against the standard thinking was that rap music lyricists are not in the category of non-fiction writers but instead are akin to fiction writers, such as novelists and screenwriters. I agreed with this argument, and now a current Connecticut case reveals the reluctance of courts to admit screenplays into evidence, even when they are (auto)biographical.
Alan Golder, also known as the "Dinnertime Bandit", is allegedly an American burglar who specialized in stealing jewelry from mansions, while their owners were inside their residences eating dinner. On November 21, 2007, after nine years on the run in Europe, Golder was escorted from Antwerp Prison to Brussels, where he was formally taken into custody by a Greenwich Connecticut Detective and two U.S. Marshals and charged with 38 felony counts and one misdemeanor, including burglary, larceny, robbery and kidnapping.
All of this sounds like it could form the basis for an interesting movie (maybe it could star John Malokovich). And indeed, William Knoedelseder has written a screenplay about Golder's life, based at least in part on Golder's input. And that screenplay could have been extremely damaging in Golder's trial on the aforementioned charges because it recounts both his burglary prowess and history of late day break-ins.
Golder's public defender Howard Ehring, however, argued that the screenplay was inadmissible because Golder's level of involvement in its creation was questionable and that it was unduly prejudicial because it was at least partially fictionalized, And apparently, the Connecticut judge hearing Golder's case agreed, ruling that the screenplay was not admissible evidence. I agree with the judge's ruling and believe that judges in cases with defendant-authored rap lyrics should reach similar conclusions.