In considering the question of legality and wrongful intent, I thought back to some public criminal cases of the last few years. As someone who prizes himself keenly on social media awareness, the elements of social media and the law is a fascinating topic for discussion as it is a relatively new issue. And while there are many positive aspects of social media, it’s hard to forget about scandals like the Rutgers incident in Fall 2010.
To summarize the situation, a New Jersey college student was accused of using his own personal webcam to spy on his gay roommate’s love life. Allegedly, this student recorded footage of his roommate kissing another young man and posted it to Twitter for public scrutiny. The student whose privacy had been invaded a few days later posted a suicide note via Facebook status, and then jumped off of a bridge to his death. The attorney for the student who posted the original video argued that the student did not act out of malicious or anti-gay intent, but out of immaturity.
This is clearly a very polarizing case, and it is hard to remain without bias with regard to this particular incident. But from the most logical and apathetic part of my mind, it is hard for me to side with the student who posted the video. Now a “dumb college student” is of course entitled to his or her mistakes, but this was a clear violation of personal privacy. Not only did he record the video without asking, in a private location- but he proceeded to save it to his computer, and post it for the public to see.
This student was found guilty on 15 out of 17 accounts he was initially charged with, and some of the tweets- which I will not repost on this blog- indicate an element of homophobia present in the case, and that was reflected in the ruling.
Now consider an alternate outcome, where the student had accidentally left his webcam on and saved the file to his computer without knowing. And suppose the student wanted to share a video of his brother’s wedding ceremony, and unknowingly posted the wrong video. If this could be proven, how could they be compared? If he deleted the video within minutes, should he not have been spared? If he made the slightest effort for a sincere apology and empathetic support for his roommate, he would have been judged very differently in the same courtroom.
These two scenarios are significantly different, and the distinction in those outcomes stems from the intent of the wrongdoer. While not all crimes are accidental, humans are logical beings with complex desires and motivations for our actions. Everything we do on a daily basis have a purpose, and that is recognized within the legal system and why these two cases would be treated so differently.
While it is certainly not without its weaknesses, the American justice system is criticized and condemned far more than it is praised. We are lucky to have trials by juries, and a number of safeguards in our own justice system against tyranny and subjectivity, among them being precedence.
I hold that intent is an important element of the judicial process in many different kinds of criminal cases. Two similar acts can have very different motivations, and they cannot be judged the same way. Whether precedence in similar acts is established, a trial should not be considered without intent. It acknowledges that we are human, and have capacity for desire and motivation not easily definable by a book of laws. We are complex beings, and we must not fail to forget that.