Two-stage trials

In any criminal court case there are two main questions:

  1. Is the suspect guilty as charged? and:
  2. Is so what should we do with him/her?

These questions give rise to the following dilemma. Suppose that Alice is suspected of having violently robbed Bob, then it is irrelevant for the first question whether Alice is a repeat offender or not. Even if Alice a long history of violent robberies, it does mean she is guilty of this particular crime. Hence it is reasonable, as is practice in some countries, not to inform the judge and/or jury of any past convictions. As that might bias them on the question of guilt (in Dutch there is a saying “once a criminal, always a criminal”).

However, if Alice has a past conviction for violent robberies and has got probation, it would be clear that just probation does not work in her case. Probably she need to spend sometime behind bars. Hence for the determination of the punishment or some other kind of treatment, it is important that the sentencing court is aware of the defendant’s criminal past.

One sees the dilemma here. In order to solve this problem, we would propose that divide any criminal court case into two distinct stages. The first stage is about establishing the facts. What actually happened? (for instance: was it murder or self-defense?) Did the suspect commit the crime or some one else? The second stage takes only place if the defendant has been found guilty, and focus on what should happen with the convict.

During the first stage, neither the judges nor the jurors are informed of the suspect’s criminal history, if any. They only get the evidence relevant to the present case.

Only during the second stage, the court is informed on the convict’s criminal record. Further it is only during this stage that the prosecution can formulate a demand for a certain punishment and only in this stage the court could order a psychological examination of the suspect (in order to determine whether the convict is fully culpable for his/her actions). Those thing do not really make sense as long the suspect is not found guilty of anything.

3 thoughts on “Two-stage trials”

  1. I started reading and came to “Alice” as your example. And immediately thought of Alice in Wonderland and immediately thought of “Off with their heads”. Problem solved.
    Then immediately thought this is being done and it is not funny. 😦
    One size does not fit all. Who will be doing the measuring and meting out?

      1. Yes, it is the way to start.
        I remember teaching (well vaguely as it has been a long time ago) young children. We were trying to figure out something….maybe in math…don’t remember.
        I told the kids……..try something. Then try something else. Pretty soon they learned to evaluate and could move in the right direction.

        It is a valid method as long as you learn from the tries and errors.

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