Friday, July 15, 2011

In the Courtroom: Expert Witnesses on Feces + Dictionary on "Shit"

I've blogged previously about expert witnesses testimony - especially the views of some Irish judges about economists as experts - and came across this really funny post about a recent Iowa Court of Appeals decision about the need for expert testimony to establish whether something is feces. The case concerned an attack on a correctional officer by a prison inmate with a brown substance followed by him yelling, "I got you with shit." The inmate challenged his conviction claiming that the state had not adduced expert evidence to substantiate the charge of assault with feces.

The court did "not believe the identification of feces falls solely within the domain of expert testimony." According to the judge, "[i]f it looks like feces, if it smells like feces, if it has the color and texture of feces, then it must be feces. No witness with a degree in scatology was required, nor was scientific testing required to establish the fact the substance was feces."
The judgment is also noteworthy for its use of the dictionary for a definition of the word "shit." The judge elucidates on the "versaitility of the word 'shit'" with some humour (see footnote on page 7, internal citations omitted):
"Shit" is defined as excrement. Webster‟s Third New Int‟l Dictionary 2098 (1993). But, the word has also been defined as nonsense, foolishness, something of little value, trivial and usually boastful or inaccurate talk, and a contemptible person. Id. This now ubiquitous word has acquired numerous popular usages apart from its literal meaning. It has been used to describe people, places, and things and to express a wide variety of emotions such as disappointment, disgust, despair, resignation, amazement, awe, shock, anger, and surprise. For examples, see State v. Vance,  ("He is going to find the shit . . . ."); Estate of Harris v. Papa John’s Pizza,  ("[S]hould be on his „shit list‟ . . . ."); Civil Service Commission of Coralville v. Johnson,   ("You ain‟t going to be shit."); Wilson v. IBP, Inc.,  ("[T]his guy‟s full of shit."); Marks v. Estate of Hartgerink,  ("It takes a lot of guts and shit . . . ."); State v. Anderson,  ("[W]hat‟s this not guilty shit."); Knox v. Municipal Court of City of Des Moines,  ("You are still a Fascist and your swastika (indicating) Heil Harrison, Heil Harrison and all that shit."); Graves v. O’Hara,  ("We have f**king shit to haul . . . ."); State v. Shortridge, ("Holy shit, let‟s get out of here . . . ."); Peck v. Employment Appeal Board,  ("[A]sking what „shit jobs‟ were available."); State v. Findling,  ("I mean this is really big shit here."); Wiysel v. William Penn College, ("[H]is words were so much „sanctimonious shit.‟"); and Blong v. Snyder,  ("[They] told him the pieces he had run were all „shit.‟"). The remarkable versatility of the word "shit" is also demonstrated in George Carlin‟s "Filthy Words," a verbatim transcript of which is set forth in full in the appendix to the United States Supreme Court‟s opinion F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation.

My previous posts on dictionaries in the court are here and here. Paul MacMahon's views on dictionaries here.