Tuesday, January 27, 2004

When Worlds Collide 

I had a great time with Criminal Law last evening. We started discussion of actus reus and mens rea, and why we aren't criminally liable for our thoughts. The casebook included a discussion of Minority Report, and that discussion continued into the classroom. Our professor confessed that she has not yet seen it, but she did relate the discussion to an episode of Star Trek (the original series) which involved a "Truth Chair." I have to admit I didn't see that one, and I can't find a reference to it online. Can anyone point me to the episode? An alternate would be Wonder Woman's magic lasso...

I thought a great one to include (unfortunately, the discussion moved away from sci-fi and back to actual cases) would be Star Trek: Voyager, "Random Thoughts." The situation on this particular planet was slightly different as the inhabitants are all telepathic, but still. On that world, violent thoughts were criminal. Anyone found to have a violent thought would have it purged from their memory. This had the unfortunate effect of creating a black market in violent thoughts, one of which was "stolen" from B'Elana Torres. She was then slated for the purging process, so Janeway and Co. had to move into high gear to uncover the thought police dissenters.

I was discussing this with The Guyfriend this morning, and he also brought up the classic Next Generation episode, "Justice," in which Wesley Crusher is nearly executed for unwittingly violating the one law on the planet - crossing the innocuous looking white barrier that pops up in random places. That one is great for all sorts of discussions - notice, arbitrary laws, retribution v. utilitarianism (although I'm not sure what purpose at all would have been served by this law, other than blind obedience to the powers that be), appropriateness of punishment given the seriousness of the crime, not to mention the Prime Directive.

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Posted by Beth Henderson at 10:57 AM