Thursday, May 19, 2011

Perpwalks and Show Trials are Very Dangerous to Freedom

The ever-popular practice of cops and prosecutors to issue press releases, mug shots and to parade criminal suspects before media cameras is a throw back to medieval times. The public loves to celebrate an infamous arrest and prosecution as they direct their rage towards the accused.

The ever-changing media has made perpwalks more exciting than Hollywood film premiers. Everybody wants to see the latest bogeyman on public display. It’s a source for instant gratification for the morbidly curious media consumers. There is no public policy benefit to anyone as a result of the present practices. On the contrary there is great harm.

The perpwalk and pretrial publicity has made television infotainment programs that channel fear and hate to every person suspected of an infamous crime. The problem is that this vile practice destroys the presumption of innocence and guarantees an unfair trial to the accused.

The practice in so many jurisdictions of letting cameras into courtrooms creates a circus complete with performers rather than a setting where truth and justice is sought.

We do need open courts where the public is welcome to observe every aspect of legal proceedings. I’d even want to see secret Grand Jury rooms opened for public inspection. We don’t need or want Star Chamber Proceedings in America.

We have a free press and what they learn or care to publish is their right. The media should be free to attend court and report on whatever they wish. They can do this without the cooperation of the prosecutors and courts acting as guides to the cases under review. Why should government create the conditions that insure injustice and falsified or exaggerated testimony?

I have no problem with our courts video recording every trial and sharing the events with the media or even posting them online once the trial with a final verdict is over. The public through the media can get to know hate the defendants all they want after the case has been adjudicated. That’s fair enough.

When our founding fathers made the rules for trials they did not have TV, film, video, radio or YouTube. I don’t think they ever took into account that these things we take for granted today would have ever been invented.

Having circus like show trials complete with media pundits is anything but fair or even dignified. Frankly what we do is sometimes downright disgraceful. It’s all fun until you or someone you love has been wrongfully accused. We must change or ways if we are to continue to claim we are a nation of freedom and liberty.

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