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Access to information about the defendant criminal record - Ielts writing task


orlando 13 / 94  
Aug 29, 2009   #1
Question: Under British and Australia laws a jury in a criminal case has no access to information about the defendant's past criminal record. This protects the person who is being accused of the crime.

Some lawyers have suggested that this practice should be changed and that a jury should be given all the past facts before they reach their decision about the case.

Do you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer.


It is juries duty to judge whether an accused one is guilty or not in a criminal case. In order to reach the right decision, they have to collect as much information as possible in the trial. However, in British and Australia laws it is not possible for jury to reach defendant's past criminal record. I believe that knowing this information may lead juries to have the wrong decision in a trial.

First, a jury has to give an impartial judgment. Knowing (about?) defendant's past criminal record, a jury may have bias against the defendant. If the defendant has committed a crime before, then jury might believe that he/she is more likely to commit the same or another crime again. Therefore they may reach a wrong decision about the trial because of the impact of the defendant's past criminal record on the jury.

Second, for juries, there is no benefit of having access to defendant's past criminal record. It is not possible to judge someone according to his/her past criminal records. Juries has to reach their decisions by the aid of evidences. Therefore, defendant's criminal records cannot be considered as an evidence. There has to be concrete evidences that shows whether the accused one committed the crime or not.

On the other hand, in some cases the accused one has committed the same crime s/he is accused of in the recent trial. In this case, the sanction should be severer. If the jury cannot reach defendant's past criminal records, then they will not know whether the accused one has commited the same crime before or not. Thus, the sanction will not be severer even though the defendant has committed the same crime before.

In conclusion, I believe that a jury should be able to access every information about the case, except the defendant's past criminal records. If they access to this information they might consider this information as an evidence itself and this might effect the decision they will reach.

333 words

EF_Simone 2 / 1,995  
Aug 29, 2009   #2
In order to bring your conclusion in line with your arguments, you might suggest that information about a defendant's past record be made available to whoever (judge or jury) is doing the sentencing after conviction.
OP orlando 13 / 94  
Aug 29, 2009   #3
Oh yes. That would be a lot better if I did that. What do you think about the structure and the vocabulary ? Seems ok ?
EF_Sean 6 / 3,510  
Aug 30, 2009   #4
Okay, I know you don't have to be particularly complex when writing this sort of essay, so these are just suggestions to get you thinking, rather than changes you have to make to improve your mark:

Your point about bias is your strongest argument. It would be even stronger if you provided evidence that juries may be easily influenced by bias. Hint: look at civil suits and the damages awarded against large corporations.

You say there is no benefit to the jury of knowing the defendant's past record. But by far the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. This therefore makes the information quite relevant and useful to have.

Why should it matter whether the crime is the same or not when it comes to releasing records? Hint: think patterns and inductive reasoning.
OP orlando 13 / 94  
Aug 30, 2009   #5
Your point about bias is your strongest argument. It would be even stronger if you provided evidence that juries may be easily influenced by bias. Hint: look at civil suits and the damages awarded against large corporations.

Yes, this would be a perfect evidence. Thanks.

You say there is no benefit to the jury of knowing the defendant's past record. But by far the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. This therefore makes the information quite relevant and useful to have.

If you were a member of a jury, and you are not sure whether the defendant is guilty or not because the evidence is not satisfying. Then you find out that the defendant has committed number of crimes before. What would you do ?
EF_Sean 6 / 3,510  
Aug 30, 2009   #6
That is the argument that the bias of allowing the record to be known outweighs its probative value. It is not the same as saying it has no such value.
OP orlando 13 / 94  
Aug 30, 2009   #7
I was just curious what you think. During brainstorm I thought about that point you just mentioned. I was actually bit confused about how to argue that point. I think saying that there is no benefit did not sounds right. I did not know how else to write it.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,510  
Sep 1, 2009   #8
Pretty much the way I phrased it. It is in fact the argument that is made whenever a judge debates letting a defendant's past bad acts into the trial. Does the evidence of a pattern of behavior outweigh the emotional bias it will likely provoke in the jury. For instance, in a case involving a serial rapist who is released from prison, and who is accused of attacking another woman using the same MO, the record might well be important enough to allow into the trial, because the record shows a pattern of behavior that the new attack continues. A different defendant, accused of the same crime, whose lengthy rap sheet consists mostly of car thefts and burglaries, might reasonably argue that his record would not be pertinent, as it shows no predilection to rape, but would turn the jury against him.


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