Indicium Difficile Part I

Judgement is difficult. The final part of the Hippocratic quote I’ve been riffing on to write this series of essays. I can easily see in the word ‘indicium’ the root of our English word ‘indict’ which isn’t pronounced anything like it looks.

Definition of indict

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1:  to charge with a fault or offense :criticize, accuse

  3. 2:  to charge with a crime by the finding or presentment of a jury (such as a grand jury) in due form of law

it is very difficult to stand in accusation. It’s one of the aspects of my planned career I worry over – sitting in a courtroom bearing expert witness in testimony is a awe-full responsibility, and if and when I have to do it, I will be fully aware of the consequences of my judgement. Fortunately, I will never be in the position of the prosecutors, who have to decide to pass judgement in the first place. It’s a position of much power, and with power comes potential for abuse.

I’ve written a great deal about the American justice system, which is simultaneously a beautiful piece of work, and deeply flawed. I don’t think that it could be otherwise. The system itself is elegant. Humans… are not. We can, and do, account for the human factor when we set up the systems. But in the long run the systems break down, and have to be reconsidered and redesigned every so often. I wrote a multi-part piece on the plea deal, looking at both the criminal, and victim’s side of that story. There are places – notably Alaska – that have attempted to outlaw the practice of pleas, but it still gets used in different ways, because the whole system would be overtaxed and collapse were every indictment proceed to a trial.

Which brings me to the other use of the word judgement, and the more personal side of this essay. Reformation of the justice system is an enormous task that will take many, many years and the input of people far more knowledgeable than I. Reforming a personal judgement, on the other hand… The more I study criminology, the more I wonder about how much judgement some people have. Some, obviously, have none. One only need search for goofy criminals who committed the stupidest crimes imaginable. Your browser search ought to yield hundreds, if not thousands of examples. But even ‘criminal masterminds’ seem to have little judgement, let alone what the rest of us ordinary everyday citizens would call ‘good judgement’ when it comes down to it.

Using judgement is difficult. I touched on this yesterday with the idea of our lives being an experiment, and last week with knowing what is an opportunity, and what isn’t. How do we judge what is going to be best, moving forward.

Due to construction in the lab, I lost my desk for the day. Part II will appear tomorrow.

5 thoughts on “Indicium Difficile Part I

  1. always comes down to what you know, what you can prove and being able to articulate it in the court room. I’ve seen people that are otherwise good communicators, simply vapor lock when placed on the witness stand. A good attorney can still draw the answers out, but it is more difficult.
    Never testify to something you did not do or see or investigate yourself. and if you don’t know, say so.
    If you don’t understand the question, say so.
    But above all, Never, ever, ever, say or do anything that calls your credibility into question. Your credibility and integrity is all you have in the court room. You can point to charts and show pictures, but the judge and jury are depending you to explain what it means, what it means what it does and how it relates to the case. They are not looking at the scientific evidence, they are looking at you and listening to what you have to say about it and why it is evidence and why they should believe you when you tell them ABC.

    1. Thank you, sir. That resonates with what I was taught, and conversations with my professor who was also a sitting judge. And my credibility and integrity have to be flawless in every part of my life, I know. I strive to live that way, even though currently I don’t anticipate being in a courtroom in any way. Because someday I might have to be there.

Comments are closed.