Saturday, January 26, 2013

Police and Court’s Forced Media Perp Walks are an Affront to Justice

My 1934 Bank Robbery Arrest Booking Photo Before I Broke Out of the Crown Point, IN Jail...

You’ve seen them all over your televisions, computer screens and in newspaper photos.  The images of some accused person wearing prison jump suits, prison stripes, handcuffs and even bulletproof vests.  Nearly every prisoner always looks very unhappy.  
I’m not talking about convicted criminals but people that are simply accused of crimes.  Okay more that 80% of those accused of crime later plead guilty or are convicted of something.  The real truth is many are actually innocent have a right to and deserve a fair trial.
Today more than ever the stories about high profile arrests are seen by virtually everyone. Before the Internet you had to watch TV news at certain times on your TV set or locate and read a newspaper.  Now through our new multimedia technology we are bombarded with these stories and images like never before.
I want you to imagine your father, mother sister or child being accused of a crime.  Every arrestee is forced to pose for a police-booking photo and have their fingerprints imaged.  This is an understandably emotional time for anyone but imagine how horrible that can be for the innocent. Those photos are considered a public record and must be turned over to the media in all but some federal cases. The sad truth is the more distressed you are in the picture the more it will be replayed by TV news editors.
It’s difficult enough for anyone being booked for a crime or worse paraded before the media in handcuffs and prison garb.  Who could smile or even hope to appear somewhat normal?  This is nothing less than a hopelessly degrading spectacle.
What goes through a potential juror’s mind to watch a hapless and frightened suspect being hustled through a Perp Walk by the cops or worse yet, the Court?   It’s an image that screams Guilty Criminal to anyone viewing.  How is that fair or in anyway advance the presumption of innocence guaranteed by our Constitution?
The media demands that their cameras be allowed into courtrooms.  Our cops, prosecutors and judges love their own celebrity being associated with notorious cases.  Our public officials love the cameras and mug for them at every opportunity, too often at the expense of innocents.
I can tell you from personal experience that cops tell the media exactly when they bring in prisoners where cameras are allowed.  Then they put on a dramatic Perp Walk show that TV makes for great TV. 
In court trials we make it a practice not to parade the defendants before the jury in jail garb and chains.  We know this influences juries improperly.  However these same accused defendants must appear in numerous proceedings pre-trial in chains and prison uniforms. If cameras are allowed in these proceedings the jurors are bound to see them and imagine the worst.
I’m not a fan of cameras in our courts.  Prosecutors and judges always seem to perform for the cameras rather than simply do their jobs.  Additionally during trials witnesses can learn what others testified to in real time.  This guarantees perjury will be impossible to expose by lawyers as the witnesses tailor their lies to each other.  Remember we exclude witnesses from watching the trial until after they testify.  Video cameras have an adverse impact on the basic fairness of our trials. 
Media Perp Walks and televised court proceedings are wrong especially if posted, published or broadcasted before the end of a criminal trial. 


Anonymous said...

Always smile for the booking photo!

JeremyR said...

With out the perp walk, Lee Harvey Oswald would have answered a lot of questions. Sure it saved the state of Texas a few bucks, but there is much we might have learned. We should have learned in 1963. Jim Leavelle joked that Oswald wold likely be alive today with appeals pending.