Innocent Until Proven Guilty, Essay Example

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Essay

Trifles is a one-act play written by playwright Susan Glaspell in 1916. The event described in the play was inspired by a real-life crime, the murder of a farmer in Indianola, Iowa. Glaspell worked as a reporter from 1899 – 1901 for the Des Moines News. During this time she covered the murder trial of Margaret Hossack, the farmer’s wife who was accused of killing him by striking him in the head with an ax while he slept. Years later, Glaspell and her husband, George Cook, helped to found the Provincetown Players theatrical company in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and it was suggested Glaspell write a one-act play for the company. Trifles was the result, a murder mystery that explores gender relationships, power between the sexes, and the nature of truth. Through her writing, Glaspell exposed the psychological, social, and physical divide that created two distinct worlds in early Americana and used her play, Trifles, to explore the themes of female identity, patriarchal dominance, and domesticity. But none of the above topics are the focus here. What about the murder mystery itself? Should Minnie Wright be found guilty of her husband’s murder? The following paragraphs will introduce the basics of investigative procedure, examine the clues found by the men and those discovered by the women and determine which of these clues could be used in the trial. Minnie Wright’s guilt based on the men’s evidence and based on the women’s evidence will be determined and some social background concerning legal cases and women at the time presented before finally answering the question of should Minnie Wright be found guilty, and, more importantly, will Minnie Wright be found guilty.

If the question of actual guilt or innocence is to be examined, it is important to have a basic understanding of investigative procedure regarding a crime scene. Though there might be variances from district to district, and from today to the time Trifles was written, it is safe to say that some basic steps must be followed to ensure the accuracy and viability of any evidence that may be present at the murder scene. First, there has to be confirmation of death. Then steps must be taken to preserve and protect the scene, and the area should be secured and isolated from intruders with the use of ropes or barricades. Unauthorized personnel should be excluded from the scene and a primary investigator appointed. (Forensics Talk)There should be some sort of documentation of the scene, in the form of photographs, video, or sketches. The search itself should start in the immediate vicinity of the body, including the body itself, and move outward until the entire area has been explored. For an indoor search of a single family home, like the Wright’s farmhouse, this would mean searching every room. (Forensics Talk)

In Trifles, the sheriff and the prosecutor do not arrive to search the scene until the day following the discovery of Mr. Wright’s body. The farmhouse is left overnight, unwatched and unsecured. Mr. Hale even mentions another person, Frank, came into the house by himself to turn on the stove. The sheriff was at the scene briefly to acknowledge the coroner’s report, and his comments suggest he did a brief walk-through himself. However, the only area inside the house attentively examined by the men is the bedroom, and then the doors and windows. The three men search, but don’t find much in the way of incriminating evidence. While the men believe it is crystal clear what happened, that Minnie Wright must have done it, they cannot find any defining motive.

Meanwhile, the ladies waiting in the kitchen find a wealth of information. While pondering over Minnie Wright, her life and relationship, and the current situation, the women idly uncover what was likely the motive for the murder of John Wright. In what the sheriff and prosecutor consider to be mere “trifles” lays the very motive the men are looking for, hidden from them by their unwillingness to look at Minnie Wright as a person in her own right, with her own identity. Because of this disregard, they miss the signs of discontent and signals, such as the uneven work on the quilt, of a distressing change in Minnie. They do not uncover the birdcage, or the box with the bird. Henderson mentions his plan to stay behind and go over everything, but what good this will do to his investigation is doubtful. In the end, the women take the dead bird. Even if Mr. Henderson wonders over the birdcage, the significance of it is likely to be lost on him without the background of Minnie Wright’s character before her marriage, and the details of the condition of Minnie’s relationship with her husband.

Henderson makes the statement, “But you know juries when it comes to women.” With this statement he is alluding that without some kind of hard evidence, an undeniable motive, the jury will likely not convict Minnie Wright. As it is, there is minimal amount of evidence Henderson could actually use within the courtroom. Hale’s testimony, as well as Harry’s testimony since he went upstairs with Hale, is admissible and there is the rope itself. But the amount of forensic evidence to be gleaned from the rope at the time was very limited. Fingerprinting as a way to identify and link suspects in criminal cases came into practice in the late nineteenth century, but it can be difficult to pull fingerprints off of material like rope. And finding Minnie Wright’s fingerprints on the rope would not be necessarily damning, since the rope could have easily come from the Wright’s property.

So the amount of evidence gleaned by the men that could be used in the trial against Minnie Wright is minimal. Based on the men’s collection of evidence alone, it is honestly questionable whether or not Minnie Wright is guilty in the murder of her husband. When laid out, Henderson has no evidence that proves Minnie Wright’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and as according to our judicial system guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict of murder. If the evidence found by Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale were admitted to the court for the jury’s consideration during the trial, it would be another matter. The dead bird and the broken birdcage, together with testimony describing how Minnie Wright changed during her marriage and the type of “hard” man John Wright was, would paint a very persuasive picture of the situation in the county prosecutor’s favor. Based on the women’s evidence, Minnie Wright appears much more likely of guilt.

But appearances are not what are supposed to be judged within a courtroom. False appearances from accurate ones need to be determined, but judgment and conviction by a jury of peers must not be based on appearances. For conviction, undisputable evidence that leaves no room for doubt in the jurors’ minds is always preferred. However, it often happens that direct evidence is available and all that exists is circumstantial evidence, as in the case presented in Trifles. The legal definition of circumstantial evidence is indirect evidence; a sequence of facts that, by reason and experience, is so closely associated with the fact to be proven that guilt can be inferred from this sequence. (Farlex, Inc.) Should Minnie Wright be found guilty? Considering only the evidence to be presented by Henderson the answer is no, because there is not enough to say with certainty that Minnie Wright was the murderer. There is reasonable doubt.

Bibliography

Farlex, Inc. Circumstantial Evidence. 2012. 2 May 2012 <http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Circumstantial+Evidence>.

Forensics Talk. Crime Scene Procedures. 1 October 2006. 2 May 2012 <http://harfordmedlegal.typepad.com/forensics_talk/2006/10/crime_scene_pro.html>.

Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. New York: Frank Shay, 1916.

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