During a criminal trial, evidence is presented in a range of forms - photographs, CCTV images, material objects, clothing, weapons and more.
These items are all covered by the strict regulations of a trial and the rules of evidence.
But when the law’s work is done, they pass into crime’s archive where the rules no longer apply.
Professor Katherine Biber explores this cultural afterlife of evidence in her research which is now collected into a new book. It draws on interviews with curators, police detectives, artists and lawyers as well as evidence held in museums, libraries, art galleries, private collections and in the online marketplace.
The survival of evidence after the law’s work has concluded invokes the concepts of archive and memory, transparency and secrecy, sensitivity and dignity.
It also raises questions of legality, ethics, and voyeurism.
Professor Biber says we need to be vigilant about how this material is used post-trial and sensitivity needs to be exercised to avoid exploitation.
In their afterlife, the materials of justice when viewed beyond the law can sometimes enable us to see too much or too little, or from a distorted angle.
Professor Biber’s research involves several case studies including that of Lindy Chamberlain.
Some of the material from this long running case is now held in the archives of the National Museum of Australia, including baby Azaria’s jumpsuit and matinee jacket. Both were key forensic evidence - the jumpsuit helped convict the Chamberlains and the matinee jacket helped exonerate them.
These tiny garments, like so many other items, have become ‘artefacts of evidence’- they cannot be destroyed or exhibited and now exist in the shadow of the law.
- Book: In Crime's Archive - The Cultural Afterlife of Evidence
- Research: In Crime's Archive - The Cultural Afterlife of Evidence
- Podcast: Lindy Chamberlain - The cultural afterlife of evidence
If you are interested in undertaking research on this topic, take a look at our postgraduate law research degrees.