Did That Happen?!

As a sociologist and criminologist in training, I realize that the difference between Voluntary Manslaughter and Involuntary Manslaughter is determined by an eyewitness report. Eyewitness reports can determine the severity of the sentence. Usually, the time in prison for involuntary manslaughter is no more than sixteen months.[1] Usually, the time for voluntary manslaughter is no more than ten years. For starters, voluntary manslaughter is intentional killing without the intent to kill. Involuntary manslaughter is the unintentional killing without the intent to kill. Voluntary Manslaughter is if John Doe and I walk into a bar; we get into a confrontation and he raises his fist and says I am going to kill you. He punches and I fall down and strike my head on the counter and die. Involuntary manslaughter is if John Doe and I go into a bar and he accidentally pushes me and I strike my head on the counter and die.

Many think that in these types of situations eyewitness accounts help. The eyewitnesses are going to tell officials if John Doe said that he wanted to kill me. Do they? I contend that eyewitnesses are a futile way of determining the sequence of events of a particular event. How often have you heard the phrases, ‘I totally forgot’ or ‘I think so’? Maybe you used them yourself? I certainly use those phrases a lot. The human brain sometimes forgets things, mixes up the sequence of events, or adds things that never happened. In fact, a number of studies show that, “subjects’ propensity to remember erroneously events and details that did not occur.” Furthermore, Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist, did a study where she had subjects watch slides of a car either yielding or stopping at an intersection to demonstrate how a third party’s interaction with the subject can alter the subject’s memory of the event. She “asked participants questions, falsely introducing the term “stop sign” into the question instead of referring to the yield sign participants had actually seen” and vice versa. The study showed “that subjects remembered seeing the false image.”[2] In other words, people tend to convolute events if another party mentioned a false statement.

Generally speaking, humans have biases that may also convolute events or portray events in a non-neutral way. Weber, a famous sociologist, agrees that all people have biases. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines biases as “a mental leaning or inclination; partiality; prejudice; bent.” [3]Biases may be caused by prejudging people by the way they dress, act, or look. In this case, Mr. Doe would be at a disadvantage if he looked evil and looked as if he was going to kill everyone in his path. Association can also cause biases. If one of the eyewitnesses is best friends with Mr. Doe, Mr. Doe could be at an advantage.

In sum, humans are really futile in determining the exact sequence of events. Humans are not machines so they tend to forget things and misconstrue events. They also tend to have complex minds which produces biases that could misconstrue events in favor or disfavor of the suspect.

[1] criminal.findlaw.com

[2] agora.stanford.edu

[3] aps.org