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Should everyone be given the benefit of doubt?


You would recall, that there used to be a prevalent practice in the game of cricket of giving the benefit of doubt to a batsman when the umpires were in some doubt about his dismissal. Though this practice was in force for a long time, but has eventually died completely with the advent of modern technology when it could be conclusively proved that the batsman should not be given the benefit. There is what we call as the ‘hot spot’ technology apart from numerous HD cameras that record and replay the moment of reckoning from so many angles and perspectives that decision can be reviewed and corrected in no time. With this, all the benefit that a batsman was earlier endowed with arousing from doubt, came to an end. In other games too, for example, badminton and tennis the benefit of doubt is not being given anymore since the time technology has come into play. Furthermore, to restrict the benefit of doubt coming out heavily in favour of one player being declared the winner, the match comprises of not just one game but a series of 3 or 5 games. To conclusively state who is a better player among the two, it is important to play these many games so that nothing is left to chance. Since there should remain no undue benefit-of-doubt given to either of the players, therefore we have best-of-three or a best-of-five games. Each team or a person plays a set of three or five games (why not 2 or 4?) to conclude a decisive victory without an iota of doubt. In a nutshell, we all hate remaining in doubt or acting upon chances.


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In the trial as well as selection matches for a particular game ahead of final selections to the playing squad at the Olympics, not enough opportunity might have been given to a promising sportsperson. If there remains even an iota of doubt in the minds of the selectors with regard to the demonstrated talent of the sportsperson, it is quite certain that he may be shown the door. A little doubt can play havoc with one’s career. The entire previous history of hard work and superlative performance gets washed out as the person is unable to impress the selectors in those few defining moments. What further we should understand is that a person might possess ‘raw talent’ but unless it is amenable to be sharpened and polished it could be of little use. The talent could also be short lived and wild, both unworthy of being nurtured or cultivated.

[ Also Read: Are we spoilt for choices? ]

Are there situations where benefit-of-doubt is still being given? Yes, there are situations where the benefit-of-doubt is still being accorded to a person which continues to shield and protect him. The first and foremost situation that comes to my mind is the application of penal code and jurisprudence. When the prosecution cannot conclusively prove the involvement, abetment and complicity of the accused person, he cannot be punished although charges could still be arraigned against him. The accused remains innocent until ‘proven guilty’. It may have happened that the accused might have destroyed or wiped off all the evidence of his crime and this could be the reason why the prosecution is unable to establish the facts even though the person is actually guilty of the crime. Well, that is how the law of the land views the situation, you could set a thousand guilty people free but even a single innocent should not be punished. How I wish, modern technology could somehow help us here in solving crimes conclusively that no person was ever wrongly punished and all wrong doers are adequately and proportionately punished. Don’t you find, albeit to some extent, modern technology has already made a surreptitious entry here as well. Many a times we find, whenever there is a robbery, an accident, a snatching etc., camera feeds are available almost instantly as soon as the crime was committed as well as played on the TV news showing the act being committed. There are numerous cameras all over the city that record daily activities providing crucial pieces of evidence should there be a crime committed. With the use of modern technology, we have been able to solve most of the cases successfully. Even heinous crimes such as an abduction, a sexual offence, a murder have been solved using modern technology. While the criminal is at large, he can be traced and tracked with the help of mobile phone network signals and data access points that can be captured and location identified using GPS. All this is apart from the most advanced tools of forensic science that are already being put to use to solve intractable cases.


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Can technology be applied to all real-life situations so that miscarriage of justice and wrongful delivery of ‘benefit-of-doubt’ could be discontinued? Real-life situations are no joke that can be replayed and corrected later once done. You cannot revisit those events and claim a benefit of doubt. All the events that occur in our lives are a lot more crucial and decisive. For example, a small error on part of a driver or a pilot can prove fatal and there may not be another chance left to be availed. In this situation, whom do we give the benefit of doubt since the person exists no more. Hence in some real-life situations actually there is no margin for error and no benefit of doubt that works. Similar thing can be said for the career of a person. No one plans to fail but still people do not succeed. In spite of one’s best laid plans, one may not succeed in life or at most reap mediocre success. Well there could have been myriad of reasons why your calculations might not have matched with that of the career aspirations. The first and foremost of them is the environmental factors that are largely outside an individual’s control and which affect all people, some get adversely affected while some favourably. Let us consider a student who had been working hard all the year round but fails to secure the best grades. Would you be inclined to give him the benefit-of-doubt and not hold him negligent of dereliction of his duty towards studies? Can we doubt his intentions? For such a student, we might take a benign view and not hold a grudge against him. We would be more than happy to give him the benefit-of-doubt while denying the same to another who had always been wasting his time and undermining his studies. We may neither hold a sympathetic view nor remain condescending towards the second student.

engineering program

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To pull out a scenario from the early 1970s, when an uncle of mine started his engineering program there was a huge demand for mechanical engineers and consequently, he took admission in the stream and planned to land up with good jobs soon after the completion of the said course. But it so turned out that by the time he graduated, the electronics stream of engineering was on the top of the charts and all plum jobs were bagged by students from the stream while mechanical engineers had to contend with not-so-plum jobs. Some benefit of doubt could still be given to the uncle of mine as he had acted in his best interests but the environmental factors, over which he had no control, did not favour him. All this goes on to prove that environmental factors are supreme, who gets lucky, only time can tell.


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And now returning to our initial example of the law and jurisprudence, let’s say, a person was set free citing reasons of inadequacy of evidence and inability of the prosecution to conclusively prove the involvement of the convict in the murder. Do you agree that there is much to be read between the lines as well as what did not meet the eye? Let us assume that the convict was actually innocent, so it is quite in line with the absence of any evidence proving his culpability. But if it were not so, and the convict was actually guilty, should the benefit of doubt actually have been accorded to the convict? Is there something technology can do to apprehend the criminal even when the person has been set free of the crime by the courts? Can the authorities still mount a credible electronic surveillance by using latest technology by intercepting the accused person’s conversations and posts on social media after the verdict has been served?

   [ Also Read: Skip these essential details about air pollution at your own risk ]

Can we enjoy the benefit of doubt (and keep basking in inaction) that the earth might not be warming up due to human activities and climate change might just be a hoax? Who does this doubt benefit? Don’t we hurt yourself a lot more by giving ourselves the benefit of doubt?


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