In high profile criminal investigations the police are everybody’s favourite whipping boy. And they do deserve the treatment partly. However, they are not their usual careless selves when it comes to cases washed in glaring media floodlights. On the contrary, they become too careful and just too proactive, which is counterproductive at the end of the day. They are, after all, not used to the kind of attention and focus a case suddenly starts getting for no apparent reason. The investigation is supposed to show some progress everyday, which exerts enormous pressure on the investigators and they start talking. And that’s a mistake.
Anyone who has played any part in any crime investigation knows it well that a crime scene is extremely complex. It’s like a crossroads with hundreds of ways, one of which leads to the truth about the crime and extends to the culprit. It is by quick elimination based upon what an investigator sees at the crime scene that a few theories regarding the crime are evolved. Many times it is not what the investigator ‘thinks’ but ‘feels’ at the crime scene that leads to the criminal. This makes a good, well-trained investigator’s instincts a dependable tool to go by. Of course, instincts can go wrong, but so can any rational theory based upon hard facts.
A crime scene is bubbling with clues and hundreds of other things that have no connection with the crime. The most daunting challenge is to separate the relevant and the irrelevant. Once that is done, a few theories emerge and each theory is taken to its logical conclusion and then fitted in with the indisputable facts about the case. All the theories that do not go well with other factors, aspects and facts are then discarded. Sometimes, there is more than one piece of puzzle that fits in with the rest of the picture. And the picture with different puzzle pieces looks drastically different. The question now is the picture with which puzzle piece mirrors the truth.
The possibility of the puzzle piece being wrong is always there because it is possible that different parts of several puzzle pieces together reflect the truth but standing alone none of them does despite the fact that they all fit in well with the rest of the picture. So, the picture fitted with any of them is still more or less false. The investigator has to work harder now because he not only has to be sure about the picture himself but must also gather enough evidence to convince the judge or the jury.
That’s how hard it can get and I have not even begun scrutinizing the possibility of error in fundamental premises (the rest of picture) themselves.
Therefore, coming up with a watertight case is not exactly a cakewalk. Newspapermen can scrutinize and punch holes in the theories because they are dealing with ‘theories’ secondhand. They are looking for loopholes, which will always be there because the facts are being discovered by the day and picture is still evolving.
Possibilities are not facts. When investigators start talking about them, they take the form of ‘claims’ and are presented to the people as a police version of the truth. And when this picture changes on evolution of the case, the police are branded incompetent because one of the pictures – or several of them – turned out to be wrong. But who discovered the right picture at the end? Possibly, it was the same investigator or some other who had the opportunity and good fortune to have the results of his predecessor’s hardwork to his assistance.
Courtroom is the place where theories and versions of truth are put to rigorous test and it is after this test that truth ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ emerges. And when it does not, the accused is acquitted, which is as much justice as conviction could be.