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This will be the first in a series of topic analyses Ethos is bringing to you—I’ll be breaking down the Stoa 2018-19 LD topic, addressing key definitions, areas of conflicts, and providing basic resources and arguments to jumpstart your research. I’ll start with basic observations, then move to definitions, and finally cover substantive conflict, application, and value clashes.

Stoa’s new LD topic reads as follows:

Criminal procedure should value truth-seeking over individual privacy.

Before we hop into any definitions, there are a few key observations debaters should keep in mind.


  • Not US-centric. Yes, I’m sure that 75% of the applications that will be argued in rounds next year will be US-focused. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially because U.S. applications are certainly pertinent and make up the majority of the literature you’ll be researching. However, the topic asks a more universal question about the priorities of criminal procedure and the normative question concerning whether truth-seeking takes precedence over individual privacy. What is the implication? You (and your judging pool) may disagree with this, but you cannot assume that Bill of Rights or Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are moral or right because they are part of the Constitution. Assuming justice without justification is a dangerous belief for society. You’ll have to go the extra mile and justify the correctness of the underlying principle and application of these legal doctrines sacred to our nation. The opinions penned by the framers of the Constitution will be key.
  • Priorities to Apply. This is not a philosophical question that debaters should observe in a vacuum completely detached from its application in the real-world. Valuing (or not valuing) truth-seeking over individual privacy in criminal procedure is important insofar as it affects (positively and/or negatively) individuals going through criminal procedure. This is not solely a lofty principled question—it’s a question whose answer directly affects the lives and treatment of millions of individuals.
  • Not Absolute? I’m inclined to think that this resolution isn’t absolute, meaning that affirmative does not have to win that in every single aspect of criminal procedure, truth-seeking ought to be valued above individual privacy, but rather that as a general principle, the resolution is true. Otherwise, to win, affirmatives would have to defend forcing individuals to answer every question posed to them in court or after accusation and the ability for police to search homes to find criminal activity without any warrant. It’s obviously debatable, but if the resolution is not absolute, much debate will take place concerning the limits concerning what extent of valuation merits an affirmative or negative ballot.
  • When in Conflict. You know the drill. You can’t value purple over seven because they don’t conflict. We’re talking about a real conflict between truth-seeking and individual privacy in criminal procedure. The real applications are zero-sum: where one increases, the other must decrease (e.g. the exclusionary rule developed in Mapp v. Ohio – stay tuned for Part 2)!
  • Not the Ethic of the Law. The debate should not be about whether or not the law a person is accused of breaking is just–it is given that there are just and unjust laws. We are asking what ought to be valued in the process of the accusation, investigation, trial, etc.

So there you have some of the necessary characteristics of the resolution. Next, we’ll delve into the three most important definitions of the topic, in Part 2. Stay tuned!

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