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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reckless Writing: Crimes Against Language

     In the world of sloppy crime reporting, guns shoot "rounds," indictments are "squashed," homes are "robbed," crime scenes are investigated by "criminologists," and negligent drivers are charged with "wreckless driving." Also, criminal suspects are "allegedly arrested."

     Rifles and handguns shoot bullets, not rounds. The bullet is the projectile, the round is comprised of the bullet (usually lead made from a used car battery) and the cartridge case which contains the gun powder. The round is the whole package. In semi-automatic handguns--pistols--cartridge cases are automatically ejected, and can become crime scene evidence. In revolvers, cartridges remain in the handgun. The term "firearm" generally applies to revolvers and pistols.

     Criminal indictments, "true bills" handed down by grand juries, are quashed. Bugs are squashed. An indictment is an early step in the criminal justice process which merely indicates there is enough evidence to justify moving the case forward to the trial stage. Indicted subjects are still presumed innocent.

     Since the crime of robbery is theft by force or threat of force, a crime against persons--homes and cars cannot be robbed. Homes can be burglarized. Burglary is an unlawful intrusion into a dwelling or occupied structure motivated by the intent to commit a crime--usually theft. It is a crime against property. Cars are broken into for purposes of theft.

     Reporters often use "murder" and "arson" inappropriately. These are legal terms. An intentionally set fire--an incendiary fire--is not an arson until someone is found guilty of unlawfully setting it. A killing or homicide becomes murder after someone is found guilty of unlawfully, and intentionally, taking a life.

     A criminologist is a sociologist interested in criminal subgroups such as juvenile delinquents, prison inmates, or prostitutes. They are usually academics who think about the causes of crime, and invent terminology crime writers consider mealy-mouthed and vague such as "anti-social behavior" which runs from first-degree murder to a burp in church. Criminalistics (an unfortunate term coined in 1947 by Dr. Paul Kirk), refers to a form of forensic science practiced by crime scene investigation experts interested in latent fingerprints, blood stains, bullets, cartridge cases, tire tracks, and other types of physical evidence commonly found at the scenes of crime. Criminalists analyze physical evidence for the purpose of interpreting the crime scene and identifying the people who were there. Criminologists are usually found in the classroom, criminalists are found at crime scenes, in crime labs, and in courtrooms.

     A wreckless driver is a careful one who has not had a wreck. A grossly negligent driver can be charged with reckless driving.

     Criminal suspects who are taken into custody have not been allegedly arrested. The arrests are facts. Until proven guilty, they are the alleged perpetrators of the charges against them.

     Not to sound like a fuddy-duddy (I don't even know if that's a word), it would be nice if journalists who cover the U. S. Supreme Court would quit calling the nine justices the "supremes." It makes me think of the motown singing trio.   

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