Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Scott Eric Kaufman on Literature as Equipment for Prosecution

I'm no criminal law expert (far, far from it) but I found this post by Scott Eric Kaufman interesting. I wonder why no law prof is blogging about it? Dan Filler?

According to The Scotsman:

Police said they were investigating whether [Wolfgang] Priklopil knew about John Fowles' novel The Collector, which tells the story of a man who kidnapped a girl and hid her in a secret basement cell in the hope one day she might fall in love and marry him.

"We have received several tips about the book," said Gerhard Lang, a senior police officer. He said no copy of the novel had been found at the house.

The "tips" notwithstanding, one wonders what the police want with The Collector. Do they think it the pedophile-kidnapper's equivalent of The Turner Diaries? (The "novel" which inspired Timothy McVeigh's "patriotism.") Or do they—and I mean this seriously—do they believe it offers insight into Priklopil's psyche?

If that is what they think The Collector to be, literature suddenly means as much as its most strident supporters claim. It is the work of an incisive mind peering into the depths of the human soul (however inhuman its content may be).

Mostly I think the Austrian police are looking for a blueprint, a formula, something which will dispel the idea that an actual human committed this crime of his own accord. Systems console weak and weary minds, providing elaborate explanations for the simple but unfortunate fact of human depravity.

Interesting. I don't know whether any insight to be gained from the novel could go to establishing mens rea or modus operandi. There are plenty of "copycat" killers and criminals who base their MO's on those of other celebrated killers or on works of fiction. I mean, are the police thinking it will be sort of a "how to" manual like those they use to prosecute bomb manufacturers or date rape druggists? Or is it just some kind of circumstantial evidence of the kidnapper's state of mind, intent, etc.? Is it to be used as evidence of "character," the way that violent misogynistic pornography might go to establishing a rapist/killer's violent antipathy towards women? I don't know how the novel might be used, if it is even usable. Of course, I raise questions of how the novel might be used in a court of law. Scott is raising the point that the police are interested as part of their investigation. So goodness knows how it plays out in the investigatory stage, or to what end the police would use it to build their case or use it as evidence of reasonable cause for further warrants.

I honestly don't know, but I invite others to comment on this.