Major issues that have come to my attention since the start of my journey into the American criminal justice process:
Vilification Before Vindication
In the past, when a bad arrest was made, the victim received an apology, the records were sealed, the arrest or charges expunged, and everything quickly forgotten. This was the case most of the time, unless you happened to be famous, and a newspaper would be looking for evidence of an arrest at all times. Not so today, with the internet all information is broadcast to billions with ease. Personal details with accusations can be taken offline, but the history of their presence will never be deleted. In the past, the physical files might have been destroyed or locked away to never see the light of day again.
I don’t believe that arrest records should never be made public knowledge. The public has a right to know about crime in the area, and that information should be provided with discretion. I believe that law enforcement groups should take more care when they make an arrest in the first place- immunity should not mean impunity. The charge of Driving While Intoxicated is not the same as children stealing candy, but it is not the most heinous crime either. A balance should be taken between the rights of the public to know about crime and the rights of the accused. Remember that we live in a society with the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven.
With these thoughts, I have come to the conclusion that the process of how mugshots are released should be reformed and that the current system amounts to vilification before a chance at vindication of the innocent. In some states the release is already limited because of the accepted prejudicial nature of the photos and in others the photos are also limited in trials. In Massachusetts the courts ruled in Commonwealth v. Martin that “admission of a defendant’s mugshot is ‘laden for characterizing the defendant as a careerist in crime'”. Now if there is a ruling like that in the courtroom stating that the existence of these photos can have an extremely negative effect on the individual, then what about having the photos posted online? What if this person is innocent?
Only if the accused is convicted or skips court should mugshots be released. The original rationale of using the photos for identifying individuals to help solve and prevent crimes is understandable. This can still be done without publishing images of every arrested person where the rights of the accused are trampled on. The main beneficiaries of the current practice of cities posting these mugshots online are mugshot exploitation websites and publications. These sites profit from misery- misery of the crimes committed, and misery of the innocent accused. To have the photos removed from these sites often requires hiring an expensive lawyer or paying what amounts to extortion money. If the courts dismiss the charges, drop the case, and expunge everything, you might still be paying for the uncommitted crime for years afterward with that photo.
Reputation is valuable. There are many extremely valuable brands in the world, and the reputation of these corporate brands means the difference between billions in profit or thousands soon out of a job. Personal brands are also valuable. They can seriously affect business, employment, and personal relationships. Personally speaking, when talking about my own case, many have found it hard to believe that the city of Austin, Texas with it’s reputation currently in high regard, would arrest someone and publicize a mugshot accusing someone of a serious crime like a DWI based solely on questionable evidence. This also after they blew a 0.00 on the breath test, were cooperative, and volunteered for every medical test and more to prove their innocence.
This mugshot with the booking charges will follow me around the rest of my life, and the same for many other innocent out there. Let’s end vilification before vindication.