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Comment So nobody should ever have to give testimony? (Score 1) 452

The alternative seems like it goes down a road where anyone could refuse to testify at any time if they don't want to see someone convicted of something, which (at the risk of going slippery-slope) raises a lot of other questions in terms of what would be permissible in terms of refusing to testify.

How about in a hate crime murder trial where all the witnesses agree with the guy who did it? Can they then refuse to answer basic questions about the day in question that might allow the prosecution to find hard evidence? If they all just stay silent, does the whole mob get away and avoid any charges at all, since they can't be held liable for refusing to testify against the murderer?

In the reverse situation, what about in a case where someone has been falsely accused of a capital crime, and all the witnesses are friends with the actual culprit? Can they all just stay quiet when the defender tries to ask them questions about what happened and let the innocent man hang? If their deception is later uncovered, are they legally in the clear for letting an innocent man die rather than tell the truth about their buddy?

Comment Re:It's simple (Score 1) 452

Unless I'm mistaken, the witness does in fact enjoy the same privilege to avoid answering when the answer would be self-incriminatory? The american bar association has a whole article detailing under what circumstances it's appropriate, and how to handle it when examining a witness that suddenly takes the fifth.

In fact, the very article you linked mentions that not only can a witness take the 5th, they are also allowed to do so selectively without giving up their right to testify on other matters. In that way they have more privileges than the accused while still posessing the same protections.

A witness can't just refuse to answer for just any reason, including fear of getting someone else in trouble, but that's how our justice system works for all people. Otherwise anyone could simply refuse to testify in someone's defense because of prior history, personal gain, or outside compulsion. Those types of things are an "obstruction of justice" as the term was really intended. (Meaning the person is willfully trying to avoid justice being served to another person through malicious action or inaction)

Additionally, without the compulsion to answer except under narrow circumstances, the ability to corrupt or threaten witnesses would become even simpler, since they wouldn't even need to claim duress and raise any alarm bells. In fact, most witnesses' self-interest would be best served by staying quiet, since speaking would put them at risk of retaliation, while simply claiming " I don't want to talk" means you're safe from everyone including, in theory, that dangerous criminal who's on trial.

In your example, Alice could reply with "I'm not sure" since she's only a suspected witness. She could safely claim to have been confused about what was going on, or have an unclear memory of what exactly happened, thus making her unsure whether "Bob did it". If they started to go down a path that might have something to do with her status as an accomplice, such as asking why she was on the scene, she could respond with "I plead the fifth" and refuse to answer that string of questions. She could also refuse to answer if they started asking her about prior drug use or some other unrelated crime.

Comment Re:Not actually a paradox (Score 1) 452

It's to prevent prosecutors from stacking perjury charges on top of any other charge unless the victim confesses.

Essentially without the 5th amendment you end up with a scenario where the most logical choice for anyone accused of a crime is to confess, unless they're accused of a crime more serious than perjury. In the case of everyone else the scenarios play out like this:

If you are innocent
If you confess you will face a small punishment for a crime you did not commit. If you refuse to testify or plead innocent but are then found guilty (possibly due to corruption or a bad trial), you face the ADDITIONAL penalty for perjury or obstruction of justice, and go to jail for that too.

If you are guilty, but there are mitigating circumstances or facts you wish to have revealed during your trial
If you confess you lose your chance to make your case in court. If you plead innocent or refuse to testify you might get to make your case, but you'll be hit with a charge for not answering if they do find you guilty.

You are completely guilty
Confession gets you a guaranteed sentence for the crime you committed. Refusal to confess risks that crime plus the extra charges, unless you get off on a technicality in which case you are completely free.

Comment Re:It's simple (Score 4, Insightful) 452

It actually isn't very logical or important for a major charge like murder, but it seems fairly important when dealing with a minor charge like say... trespassing. Typically trespassing would not be a serious offense, and it is often one that includes mitigating circumstances or enough nuance to justify a proper investigation before a person is punished for their crime.

If, however, you can stack a 5 year felony sentence for "perjury" or "obstruction of justice" onto minor charges unless the defendant admits to being guilty, then you have yourself a very easily abused power as a prosecutor. It's made even worse because the eventual determination of whether or not they've committed perjury is going to be entirely based on the outcome of the case itself. It's basically a way to add a felony to any minor misdemeanor unless the person is willing to confess outright, and it puts an innocent person in the unenviable position of risking a potentially huge charge for a far lesser crime unless they make a false confession to save themselves.

"Well you either confess and we give you 1 week of community service, or else we put you on trial. If you're found guilty, and we will try our hardest to make this circumstantial evidence stick, you'll not only get community service but you'll also face 5 years in prison and a felony charge for perjury. So I ask again: Did you vandalize that tree in the park or not?"

In a way it reminds me of the old witch trials. "You're guilty of perjury because we insist you're innocent of this other crime and we decided that you aren't."

Comment Re:Is this really helping people in 2nd or 3rd wor (Score 1) 64

Except, as noted and described in that article I linked, there are already some deployments in place that accomplish exactly this. They successfully allowed illiterate children to not only learn basic written english, but also to learn the tablet technology to a level that they were able to override system-level modifications made by the admins who set them up.

Also as awesome as Archer is, I don't think it exactly qualifies as a reliable source for geopolitical fact. Most warlords would likely have very little interest in equipping their soldiers with outdated solar-powered tablets pre-loaded with alphabet games.

Comment Re:Is this really helping people in 2nd or 3rd wor (Score 1) 64

Or they could get laptops that are set to speak aloud and accept speech input. Or they could be be pre-configured with shortcuts to online language learning programs, allowing literacy to spread. Or they could rely more heavily on video, which can be incredibly helpful as a learning tool for people who are barely literate but have rudimentary written language skills. Need I go on with really easy solutions?

As a real world example:

But way to go; if your goal was to make me look momentarily stupid for trying to point out the possible benefits of a philanthropic program, mission accomplished.

Comment Re:For those that cannot afford things... (Score 1) 64

See, you say that as though it was fact, but I don't see any evidence of that anywhere in their stated goals or intended actions. They want to bring the Internet to people, and I can't see any way to give them Facebook without giving them everything else as well. Though I'm certain he sees the chance to expand Facebook as a welcome bonus, how much revenue do you really think he intends to extract from people who can't even afford internet access? Targeted ads to southern Nigerian farmers aren't going to be worth very much...

You could choose to assume a cynical viewpoint and expect the worst, but its entirely possible that Zuckerberg has realized he's got more money than he can ever spend and decided to put his considerable wealth and internet-clout towards a worthy philanthropic goal. (See: Bill Gates, who was also once considered a selfish jerk interested only in profits.) A middle ground might be to assume that his only way to increase profits is to get a whole new group of people into the wealth levels required to be useful to him. If the side effect of his business goals was the economic prosperity of half the world's population, I'd be okay with that on the whole.

Also, my example directly referenced how facebook could be helpful, in that it would let people in these remote locations connect with nearby people and share common solutions to their problems. My insights about how to solve problems like non-potable water aren't going to be very useful, since I make assumptions about what's available (tools, power, people who can read, etc.) that simply aren't true in the context of a person in different situation.

Comment Re:Not a top priority... (Score 1) 64

I think that's his point: Nobody should have to choose between accessing the world's repository of knowledge and buying food. If we can give them both, maybe they can use that big pile of information to improve their lives in more meaningful, long lasting ways.

There have been some studies on this that show how much people can improve their lives by getting access to the knowledge we take for granted. We may not be able to do a lot with Wikipedia's article on crop rotation and fertilization techniques, but I bet a farmer in southern Nigeria could.

Comment Re:For those that cannot afford things... (Score 4, Interesting) 64

Facebook update #248: Location: Ethiopia: Thanks to user NamibiaYOLO33 who sent me to that Instructables article. We're making some carbon filters from our firewood ashes tomorrow to see if they work!

Facebook update #253 Location: Ethiopia: Wow, no cholera for a week! Who knew we were throwing away valuable filtering supplies every day? Next up, I think we can take the alternator from that broken down bus outside down and make a wind generator, so we can work at night.

Just because you think that social media is useless doesn't mean everyone does. There are some parts of the world where a bit of knowledge sharing could go miles.

Comment Re:Is this really helping people in 2nd or 3rd wor (Score 5, Insightful) 64

There actually have been some studied connected to the OLPC project that suggest internet access is incredibly valuable to people in developing nations, but not for the reasons you're thinking.

These people we're talking about might be 150 miles from the nearest library with a full set of encyclopedias; for that matter, they might not even know how to read. How good do you think their agricultural practices are, given that level of background knowledge? When presented with the challenge of cleaning their drinking water, how far do you think they get? How about diagnosing diseases, planning for weather, or being aware of potential politcal danger? Do you think they could do a bit better at those things given access to Wikipedia, WebMD, Instructables, Reuters and YouTube?

On the same route, perhaps they could even begin to improve their own infrastructure given a bit of access to the world of modern industry? Maybe a small village could save up to invest in a solar array, and have lights inside at night? Or a water purifier so they don't die of cholera anymore?

Knowledge is power, the internet is distributed knowledge. It could do a lot more to help people than a bit of financial aid or temporary food supplies might.

Comment This just in: (Score 2) 64

Incredibly generic website name had former owner, who at one point posted jokes. More at 11.

I don't even really get why this would be in poor taste? The idea that egyptians used slaves as labor is pretty much accepted as fact, and seems to be in safe territory for a joke to me (despite recent studies that suggest most of the meaningful labor in ancient Egypt was actually done by paid workers). And shocker, there is pornography on the internet; can we not make jokes about that anymore?

I really don't get what all the fuss is about, even if Zuckerburg were somehow actually connected to the content the site formerly hosted.

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Practical people would be more practical if they would take a little more time for dreaming. -- J. P. McEvoy