Our basic human and constitutional rights dictate that if we are charged with an offense, we are afforded an opportunity to defend ourselves in front of an impartial jury of our peers, and we are considered innocent until proven guilty by such measures.
It is difficult to preserve one’s constitutional rights when the media gets involved in criminal matters of those charged with non-violent offenses, because individuals become guilty by the court of public opinion, and it is more difficult for them to have an impartial trial, but our own public servants insinuating & outright asserting that a man is guilty of a non-violent offense publicly, before he has in day in court, via facebook, is not a good idea.
“Hickory Marijuana Dealer Arrested in Caldwell County” is the facebook posting headline, with a picture of a man who had not yet had his day in court to prove that he was a “marijuana dealer,” and followed by a “pat eachother on the back”-sounding description detailing the ICE agency & local sheriff’s department partnership in the arrest. There is also a quote from Sheriff Jones, “All the law enforcement agencies involved pooled their resources together which lead to another dealer out of business” – Sheriff Alan C. Jones
Another dealer out of business? The man had not been found guilty by a court at the time of this posting, therefore Jones’ statement at the time was an opinion. His opinion may have been correct or may not have been, but that had not yet been decided by a court when they blasted it out as an official post from the Sheriff’s Department! https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=507459942643439&set=a.218548491534587.55119.134215583301212&type=1&permPage=1
I think we should seriously examine the idea of these social media smear campaigns coming from our public service departments, and I offer here a counter-argument for this practice of public & permanent embarrassment of not-yet-convicted non-violent offenders:
1) As I have already stated, they are undermining individuals’ chances at receiving a fair trial of their peers by influencing the public perception of the individual.
2) If the person if found to be innocent of the charges against them, they will have their reputation forever tarnished by the Sheriff’s Department’s social media site!
3) It’s not effective for the cause of deterring drug crimes. I’m not sure if that is their intention, that is the only explanation I would think could be offered for taking such actions, but punishments for crimes are meant to be the deterrent for the crimes, and if the idea of being locked in a cage doesn’t stop someone from committing an act, then the potential of having their picture publicized with the list of accusations against them isn’t going to be an effective deterrent, either.
4) It seems likelier that these actions are more a measure of the department “bragging” on their work than having anything to do with their role of stopping crime. Sad that PR interests are put before the interests of the people they are meant to serve. In a free & fair society, we should consider working to support rehabilitation of non-violent offenders, not permanently brand & embarrass them.
5) This kind of social media branding will make it more likely that a convicted drug dealer would go back to selling drugs after serving their time, because social media branding such as this from a legitimate government entity site would make it even more difficult for them to ever obtain a legitimate job from an employer. Employers who could overlook a prior conviction, based on the fact that an individual has reformed their way of life, may not be so willing to hire someone as a representative of their business entity who could have such embarrassing information easily brought forward from a simple search. This actually has the reverse effect of what the potential intentions are, since prior drug dealers would be forced to continue their black-market activities in order to survive if they are not able to make a role for themselves within the legal above-surface system.
The Sheriff’s Department post contained several comments commending the officers for getting the bad guy. Let’s seriously consider whether we should be so quickly publicly chastising individuals on only the basis of an arrest?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the individual in the post described is innocent of the charges against him. I don’t know the later results of the court ruling on his case- I would even venture to guess he was ruled guilty (this guess stemming from my biased opinion, after having read the sheriff department’s post), but I feel whether he was later found guilty or not is irrelevant to the actions of the Sheriff’s Department before he even had a trial.
I’m also not saying that the Sheriff’s Department can’t brag about the number of law-breakers they are detaining – but the PR stints should be reserved for AFTER a non-violent offender has been proven to be guilty of the charges against them! There was no good reason to do this. Sad!
It should be noted that this is not an isolated post, it was simply one pulled from a whole slew of posts detailing mug shots & arrests the department is making in their latest social media PR campaign.