There are many things in our modern world to be thankful for (if even certain circumstances could make one think otherwise), such as quick internet, indoor plumbing and ready-to-cook meals. As well as more advanced infrastructures like medicine, technology, and law. Compare these themes back to when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein and you’ll understand my point of being grateful. However, in this blog specifically I am going to be discussing the evolution of law, and how the trial of Justine Mortiz would have played out according to the current Canadian Justice System.
Obviously, the biggest difference’s between the two law systems exist in the forms of developing in separate continents and centuries. With the development of technology brings the biggest impact on criminal justice and court room proceedings. Things like DNA testing, forensic investigations, and security cameras now play major roles in crimes. Along with an exponentially better understanding about human biology, now autopsy’s can be done in order to positively identify the cause of death in a victim. All these things have been incorporated into contemporary crime investigations in order to satisfy our modern philosophies about crime: every person is perceived innocent until proven guilty, therefore, cold hard proof is needed in order to successfully penalize the guilty and keep the innocent safe. Of course there are many other steps of a trial that need to be explored, like the defendants, in this case is Justine’s, alibi, witness testimonies, determining the category of homicide and its respective punishment (luckily along with the evolution of human knowledge came the betterment of human decency cough cough capital punishment cough).
Let’s talk about how Justine’s trial played out. From what we can conquer from the story, Justine was accused as the murderer due to the jewel that was found on her person after the murder occurred that was previously on the body of the deceased. The causation of Williams death is determined to be strangulation due to fingerprint bruises on his neck. The Frankenstein family testified as witnesses and spoke very highly of Justine, plus Justine had an alibi that could have been proven by several people, including Elizabeth, (the person who seemed to be most distraught by Williams death). In just one day Justine was charged as guilty and sentenced to death, the punishment for more than 200 different crimes at this time. Now, to the best of my abilities and extent of my knowledge, I will translate these circumstances into how they would be handled and investigated today.
Aforementioned, proof is what would be needed in order to either convict or clear Justine of committing homicide. For the sake of discussion, let’s pretend we want to prove her innocence. Starting with the cause of death, the body would be taken to a coroner to have an autopsy preformed it to exclude if there could be another cause. If it turns out to be strangulation, we could deduce whether the strangler was Justine by having her compare her hands to the marks on Williams neck to see if they lined up. Forensic scientists could examine the body and surrounding area for DNA samples for evidence that proves Justine was at the scene where the body was discovered. Since it was said that prior to the killing, Justine was sick and bedridden it wouldn’t make sense for her, say hair, to be on Williams clothes if she had not been near him or doing his laundry. Next, the alibi issue. This could be easy enough to prove, just get Justine’s aunt whom she visited and owner of the shed where she stayed the night, maybe even someone who had seen entering the Geneva gates in the morning to testify that she was not present in the Painpalais on the eve of the murder. Even Elizabeth had known that Justine was out at the time, and surely the jury would be have to believe that if the beloved cousin of the deceased was defending the accused, surely she must be innocent?
On the other side of the coin, the mens rea of the crime must be proven. Mens rea is the mental knowledge or intent to commit a crime. The actus reas is the physical action which occurred, which is what the forensics and witnesses are trying to prove. Both elements must be proven in this crime. In this case we would investigate the motive. What was Justines reason for killing her friend? Was it for the acquirement of the jewel? If it was, why not just steal it in the night, and not go through the trouble of a possible murder trial? Why would she want to steal the jewel? To sell it? The family spoke very highly of Justine, and her of them, she did not truly need the money if they were treating her kindly. How could she betray their trust like this? Also, is this twelve year old child truly capable of murder? With all these questions and leads that would have to be pursued, the trial would take much longer than a day to complete successfully. Lastly, as far as punishment goes, the penalty for first and second degree murder is life imprisonment (25 years). This allows for the opportunity of new evidence to be found and the trial could be taken up again. If this happened back then, well, the whole ‘march to the gallows’ shtick would be a bit of a road block wouldn’t it? Fortunately, we’ve left these barbaric punishment practices in the past, and we should all appreciate our modern law methods, even if they sometimes seem restrictive and harsh.
White, Matthew. “Crime and Punishment in Georgian Britain.” The British Library, The British Library, 22 Apr. 2015, www.bl.uk/georgian- britain/articles/crime-and-punishment-in-georgian-britain.