Contesting matters of facts in rape trials

Physical evidence can become legal facts in a written verdict when it has travelled through the legal chain from the crime scene to the courtroom. The legal chain includes experts from different institutions, including the police, hospitals, forensic laboratories, and the courts.

These experts belong to different disciplines and are, thus, from different epistemic cultures. Experts collect biological matter and other clues at the crime scene, which usually includes the victim’s body, before analyzing, testing and transforming biological matter and other clues into evidence, which is further transposed through the legal chain. When evidence moves between epistemic cultures, its meaning is simultaneously set in motion. In this way, evidence is constructed and reconstructed as it travels from the crime scene to the courtroom. 

Evidence is further reconstructed in the courtroom, where it attains meaning and value in interactions and contestations with medical, legal, and lay people. Kruse (2016) describes how the emphasis on convicting the right person with sufficient legal certainty indicates that evidence has to have a relatively stable meaning. At the same time, she contends that physical evidence has to have a relatively plastic meaning to be able to move through the legal chain. This creates tension between the stability and plasticity of forensic evidence, which is manifested in the friction between epistemic cultures throughout the legal chain and among actors in court. 

In this project, Laugerud will investigate how legal professionals and lay and legal judges attempt to stabilize or challenge the meaning of physical evidence throughout the legal chain. Laugerud will do interviews with prosecutors who prosecute rape cases, make observations in court during rape trials and analyze written verdicts in rape cases. The aim is to gain an understanding about the relationships between different knowledge discourses that transform the meaning and value of physical evidence from when it enters the courtroom until it is published in the written verdict. 

Published Nov. 16, 2020 11:12 AM - Last modified Dec. 4, 2020 1:34 PM