Monday, June 22, 2015
According to an article in The Greenville Sun,
Postmortem images of murder victims are one of the tools prosecutors use to help obtain a conviction at trial.
But legislation that becomes law on July 1 in Tennessee will allow juries to see victims as they appeared alive.
The "Victim Rights Photo Bill" has strong supporters among the state's district attorneys, and detractors among criminal defense lawyers who defend murder suspects.
The bill, as enacted, "provides that in a prosecution for any criminal homicide, an appropriate photograph of the victim while still alive will be admissible evidence when offered by the district attorney to show the general appearance and condition of the victim while alive."
I'm not sure how I feel about this legislation. According to Dan E. Armstrong, district attorney general of the 3rd Judicial District,
"The benefit to the prosecution is to remind the jury when they see brutal and gruesome photos of a dead body that we are talking about a human being who had value," he said. "The families of victims of homicide want the jury to see the one they loved as they lived, and many families report that it helps bring a sense of closure to know that that the jury saw their loved one in life, not just in death."
On the other hand, trial lawyer Louis Ricker, has countered that "[t]he bill can be detrimental to clients." Specifically, the showing of live photos of the victim could inflame the passions of the jury and prompt them to feel that justice needs to be done for the loss of life despite guilt not being proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
What's clear is that the new legislation will cause changes in many Tennessee courtrooms. Currently, "appellate court decisions have caused some judges to be hesitant in admitting life photos for fear of reversal on appeal."
As I said before, I'm uncertain how I feel. This is the classic conflict between defendants' rights and victims' rights. I plan to look at some of the appellate court decisions on the issue before deciding where I stand.