Friday, December 30, 2011

Does pre-conviction shaming deter DWI or just obliterate presumption of innocence?

The Tarrant County District Attorney's website is posting the names of everyone charged with DWI as a supposed deterrent to drunk driving over the holiday weekend, reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. But this pre-conviction shaming sanction has its critics:
Defense attorneys, however, said the postings could violate the civil liberties of those accused of driving drunk.

"I absolutely condemn driving while intoxicated ... but these people are presumed innocent," attorney Richard Henderson said. "I just don't think that's right."

Attorney Steve Gordon, president of the Tarrant County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said the postings could violate state ethics rules for prosecutors.

"There are some people [members] who are very upset about it," Gordon said. "Is he going to pull the information on the case when he loses?"
Good question about what happens when the DA loses a case - haven't they then just slandered somebody who didn't deserve it? In 2009, for example, 102,309 DWI arrests statewide resulted in just 44,777 convictions. This seems like putting the cart before the horse.

For the DA to do this raises a host of questions about pretrial punishments, presumption of innocence, etc., but commercial media do the same thing all the time. The broader and seldom-broached question is whether it need be reported at all? In Britain, by contrast, most information about criminal prosecutions is confidential pre-conviction. As a young man, I considered that an outrageous restriction on the press, but anymore I'm not so sure. As Grits has written previously, "much US crime coverage is quite poor, sensationalistic, frequently misleading, one-sided, and often flat-out counterproductive. In Texas, there are at most half a dozen news reporters who I consider to produce high-quality crime beat coverage, and most of the rest often do more harm than good. That's not a great ratio."

A topic Grits hopes to delve into more deeply in the coming year is the extent to which such pretrial publicity - whether it's the DAs doing it themselves, the Austin Statesman publishing booking photos, a Denton art student putting arrests on Twitter, or Nancy Grace flailing defendants in nationally publicized cases - serves or harms the public interest. Stuff like booking photos, arrest logs, jail logs, etc., are historically public data but nobody but insiders, journalists, and those viewing it in a professional capacity would, as a practical matter, ever access it. Now it can be easily disseminated electronically, but doing so before the conclusion of a criminal case, especially high-profile ones, can be highly prejudicial. Shaming can properly be in and of itself a punishment - indeed, some sentencing theorists actively promote shaming sanctions - but punishment should occur after a conviction rather than merely as the consequence of an accusation that may prove unfounded.

Grits fears the issues surrounding the Tarrant DA's DWI arrest list are merely the point of the spear, and that widespread publication of such data will become a major flashpoint among 21st century privacy concerns. I noticed that over at the Texas Tribune, their largest database app (government employee salaries), drew 125 times as many page views as their most popular news story, at 19.1 million page views compared to 153,000. Their second most popular data app was their Texas inmate database, a service which duplicates one on the TDCJ website, which came in at just over 5 million page views.

With web-traffic flagging, more media are putting unfiltered government data online precisely because of numbers like those - they look at their web traffic and see their prose isn't nearly the draw they hoped it might be, but database apps get much more traffic. Lots of papers these days are putting booking photos online to draw eyeballs, but like the Trib's employee salary database, its draw is mostly a function of voyeurism, not because the practice is a boon to public safety or a driver of improved public policy. Grits considers it ethically questionable for the media to publish booking photos and unproven allegations about non-public figures, and even more problematic when the Tarrant DA engages in public shaming while defendants still retain a presumption of innocence.


Anonymous said...

It obliterates presumption of innocence. The Montgomery County DA is worse yet. False information is printed and posted on his facebook page and never corrected. Pct 4 constables have been known to travel around with a reporter that has actually been inside photographing homes that have been entered by them before the warrant is even issued. Things are getting terribly out of control in the name of Public Safety.

Anonymous said...

I guess I don't understand how reporting that someone is charged with an offense impacts the presumption of innocence? And the fact that the media might report something that is a matter of public record--something any interested party can obtain through an open records request or go to the clerk's office and look up--is hardly unethical. Are you also advocating that we close criminal trials to the media and the public? After all, the defendant remains "presumed innocent" until a guilty verdict is returned.

Incidentally, you've been very active in reporting the allegations (including some criminal allegations) against Judge Ken Anderson in regard to his involvement in the Morton trial. I don't understand how you can reconcile that kind of publicity on your own blog and the position you seem to be advocating here.

Prison Doc said...

Anonymous 9:05 has apparently never been an innocent who was victimized by false arrest or's a real eye opener.

Grits I admire your resilience in tilting and windmills but all of this sort of stuff makes me feel pretty hopeless. The press is no pathetic little hometown paper would go out of business without petty victimless crimes to plaster all over the front page.

Grits, Happy New Year and thanks for all you do for seekers of justice and restoration.

rodsmith said...

tell me about PD.

Sorry grits you got a better shot of convicing the country those "evil sex offenders" are just poor misunderstood boys then get the media and govt to stop their HATE campaign.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Fair point about Ken Anderson, 9:05, except that my post explicitly limited its critiques to publishing information about "non-public figures." I think it's appropriate for journalists to apply different standards regarding the amount of scrutiny given to holders of public office, for example, or others who seek to place themselves in the public eye compared to the average DWI or drug defendant.

As for how reporting charges impacts the presumption of innocence, imagine the taxi or bus driver accused of DWI who loses their job when it's reported in the paper but who was actually innocent and later beats the case. They've been forced to suffer collateral consequences because of what is in practice if not in name a pretrial shaming punishment, despite never having been convicted. (Admittedly, I'm sure Ken Anderson would say so has he.)

Finally, I'm not for closing trials, but I do think the British regs on crime reporting make a lot of sense and they don't require that. They just make journalists wait to report.

Good comment. I'm not completely clear where I fall on some of these questions - as I said in the post, my views have evolved over the years to a place where I'm less certain which values should predominate.

Prison Doc, I agree it can be depressing. The main reason I began Grits seven years ago was precisely that the MSM is so terrible on these subjects, driven by both bad incentives and government-biased methodologies. Maybe it's tilting at windmills to say so, but it doesn't cost me anything.

Chris Halkides said...

Good comments here all around. Some things, like highly public perp walks for someone who has just been arrested, are pretty hard for me to justify. Simply reporting the facts on the back page of the paper might be a different matter.

Anonymous said...

If I could go to extremes, a high profile sex offender case gets lots of media attention even though there is a presumption of innocense. We are going through the same here just on a larger scale for a lesser offense.

Sheldon tyc#47333 said...

I saw this on the news last night Grits and it reminded me of something you read about from the Puritan days. I suppose similar to Muslim countries like Iran that are run by religious fanatics some folks in our Dominionism run state think they can get away with desecrating peoples constitutional rights for their own personal glory and gain. Not sure how the overall voting public feels about this type of mashugas but if the GOP presidential polls are any indication our country may be safe in the meantime from these types of religious fanatics. Although like the old slave holders back in the day, all those Dominionest may be flocking to a “safe state” like Texas soon enough. I wonder if our “ol thang’s” counterpart in the race feels the same way about state sponsored pedophilia on so called throw away kids as he does? However watching the U-Tube videos of the 2 of them eating a corn dog at the fair has led me to delta my opinion regarding their having any useful skill sets.

I wonder if the Tarrant county DA will discriminately not publish the names of Fort Worth police officers busted for DWI. That should cut the list way down.

Good point anonymous on Grits coverage of the Wilco judicial shenanigans and thanks Grits for clarification differentiating between public and private citizens. Last year I had some ethical issues about publishing the pedophiles of tyc database despite how I feel about these people. I had some outside influences sway my decision not to do so. There were at least 300+ names with 3 or more corroborating witness and over 700 distinct records. However I would think the tyc people have way much more in their files and who now have my database. I’m confident they are diligently working to prosecute the pervs, I mean perps. LMAO

Anonymous said...

Last I checked, arrest information was public information. In the little town I grew up in, the weekly paper included a listing of everyone arrested and the circumstances of their arrest. Publication of arrest information is in the grand american tradition.

Anonymous said...

It's 9:09pm and John Bradley still sux

Lawton Davis said...

If there was more effort to educate the populace regarding presumptions of innocence, it wouldn't matter. The lowest common denominator types out there seem to rely on the golden age standard of "where there's smoke, there's fire" instead.

I also lived in several communities where arrest reports were placed in the newspaper, unless it was soemone of influence or the golfing buddy of the executive staff at the newspaper, and it did not impact the trials from what we could see. Locally, some of the smaller newspapers still do this too; why should the citizenry be deprived public information?

Anonymous said...

Expunctions definitely become much more difficult to process in the event of dismissal or acquittal, but Tarrant County is not the only jurisdiction that posts this information online. In fact, many counties posts some really old traffic ticket information online as well. Is that really an embarrassment or more of an annoyance?

Anonymous said...

Funny how times change with the laws of the land.I remember when my granparents drove around with a mixed drank in their hand.They were pillars of the community.Never got in trouble for dwi and drove home drunk at least once a month.Why were they never public enemy number one? Oh yeah,That was back when they criminal justice system saved charges for real criminals.Now its all about money.The pre trail monitering is just as much a presumpition of guilt as publishing names.
It's all rigged in favor of the Da.

Tedbyrd said...

I have been to a number of DWI seminars- one point that is inevitably made is that DWI- as an opinion crime, (and one of the three great bugaboos in Texas Criminal Justice,the others being sex with kids and wife beating- the last two are my addition)a simple accusation is almost as good as a conviction- Ray Donavan, Sec. of Labor for Reagan, upon acquittal, asked where he went to get his good name back- DWI is the 21st century equivalent of the Scarlett Letter-the problem with a simplae accusation in this day and age is that, with data miners and other web based info gatherers the assusation is out there- but the dismissal or acquittal somehow lags behind- or is not newsworthy the statistics say that, for the most part, crime levels are falling- is this a desperate for DAs and law enforcement to maintain their power? is it a public yearning for some level of control and predictability in a chaotic world? another case to watch is the Rowlette case out of New Braunfels-foster parent apparently accused of agg sex assault-very crazy, another instnce of Cruella(Jennifer Tharp) out of control- Happy New Years to Grits, and keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

The question will be decided in a court when there is a suit of the official for defamation or deprivation or some other question. As a psychiatrist, I know of no long history showing that shaming (the scarlet letter) really alters the inner person. Other than to create more hatred.


Anonymous said...

Posting in local newspaper obviously,isn't a deterrent, or why would you read 2 times and more DUI/DWI charges. Also, so true, depends on who you are as to if local paper post your arrest.
From my knowledge MSM report isn't always correct either. No surprise there. As for D.A. and Police saying all in name of "public safety", then why not have mandatory monitors for "proven" offenders. Money is the real reason we have recurring DWI/DUI as well as possession charges.

Harry Homeless said...

If it's not important whether or not an actual crime has been committed - i.e. presumption of innocence has no meaning - then let's expose everyone's picture as DWI suspect. Think what good that would do for public safety!

But I wouldn't let reporters' ethics - or lack thereof - decide principles of disseminating information. Freedom - even if abused - is still the only path to take.

I recently read where John Bradley slandered the Dallas DA as a publicity hound for his overturning of wrongful convictions. (A pretzel of logic if I ever heard one!) But this is clearly a case of a DA seeking publicity at others' expense.

Anonymous said...

A lot of the comments seem to miss the point that the goal is to have less offenses. If the goal was just to shame then the DA would be posting the names of all people charges with all crimes. IF this deters someone from driving while intoxicated and taking a life do any of you really think that is worth others suffering a little embarrassment?

Anonymous said...

As long as there are 12000+ alcohol related traffic fatalities in the USA, there will be a push to reduce the number. That is in addition to tends of thousands of alcohol related accidents, by the way.

I don't think the public shaming does as much good as some think nor do I think it ruins the presumption of innocence but it'd be nice if fewer people drove while under the influence, no matter what level of alcohol they had in their system.

D. Reznicek said...

12000+ versus the 300 MILLION of us in the country is negiligible, however.

Red Leatherman said...

While I agree with the presumption of innocence and that the tacky posting of mugshots of accused but not convicted people is libelous and slanderous. The two edged sword would also effect my favorite reading by reducing the bad cop stories to a lot of lines that read "officer so n so just returned to work after 6 months paid administrative leave for no reason" stories

Anonymous said...

Congrats Reznicek. Calling the 12000+ dead negligible will surely win "stupidest post of 2011 award!

Anonymous said...

The whole problem is nobody wants to stop dwi.There us too much revenue to be gained.Otherwise every car would have an aclohol sensor installed.When you get in the car and turn the key the sensor picks up the smell of alcohol and your car wont start.End of story.These sensors are relatively cheap compared to the cost of DwI

Anonymous said...

It is wrong to publish mugshots of persons not convicted of a crime. Too many people don't understand the difference between an arrest and a conviction.

DWI will never stop so long as the consumption of alcohol remains socially acceptable, a place to drink remains at a bar next to a public road, convenience stores continue to sell alcoholic beverages, ice chests, and ice at the same place you purchase gasoline, etc. Heck, today in Texas, you can still buy one 12-ounce can of beer at most convenience stores, get a paper sack to put it in, and get into your vehicle. All the while, there are laws against open containers.

Follow the money. Too many people will go out of business if steps were taken to really reduce/eliminate DWI.

As far as District Attorneys go,my experience is they are more concerned about the conviction at whatever cost rather than what is right and just for an offender.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:38 nailed it. The moral minority who criminalize social problems have way too much to lose to actually stop DWI. Think of all the mad ho’s with nothing to do if cars didn’t start when a drunk got behind the wheel.

D. Reznicek said...

Tell ya what, Anon... I'll accept that award if you'll be willing to come forward and state your name for who you are. Oh, and 12000 divided by 300000000 is .00004% of the population. That's a pretty low number the last time I checked. Yes, freedom's messy and sometimes people die from stupidity. I'm a grown man, and I can handle myself. I'm sorry that you can't trust yourself to manage your own life. I'd like to be left alone to be an adult, much as I'm sure you would, as well. This is posturing by a DA who has no comprehension of "presumption of innocence".

Anonymous said...

D. Reznicek, I wrote the original numbers (which are estimated to be on the low side by the way) which came from official websites. Currently, there are far fewer people in this country than 300MM that drive, that number being closer to the entire population of the country.

Further, fatalities are only part of the equation, many times more involved in accidents that leave people alive but disfigured, ruined lives, or just facing tremendous expenses of one sort or another. That you would stoop to attacking the award giver by using faulty logic, after all, laws are made to control the behavior of "other" people, weakens your point (which has some merit).

The bottom line for many people is that huge numbers of deaths and costs to society result in many trying to mitigate the problems. Government often does a poor job at this but to make no attempt to reduce the numbers seems pretty harsh.

And no, just because many people are idiots by assuming an accusation in a newspaper equates to guilt, does not mean it "obliterates" the presumption of innocence. It just proves what many have said regarding the beliefs of the general public versus our legal rights. Such public shaming was very common back when our country was founded, far more common than now, so it's not like our founding fathers (including some that owned/ran newspapers) were clueless.

Heck, given some of the blog and other media coverage of numerous people accused of misconduct well before guilt or innocence was properly established, I'd think most here would be okay with the practice.

Anonymous said...

Initially, I used to think nothing deters DWI, because you can usually buy your way out of the first offense, and/or keep driving.

However, if you're a pilot, you won't be flying. The FAA is quite unforgiving regarding flying or driving while intoxicated. Yep, I said "driving." Flying under the influence is an absolute no-no, as federal aviation law states that you cannot have ANY alcohol for at least 8 hours before getting into the pilots' seat. But, If you're a licensed pilot and get tagged for a DWI driving a car, you have no later than 60 days to report the "motor vehicle action" to the FAA's security office. You also have to report it to the FAA medical examiner for evaluation. (Alcoholism is considered by the FAA to be an unfit medical condition.) This will trigger a whole set of anal exams by the FAA, including an out-of-pocket psych eval, cost you a BIG bundle of money, and you definitely won't be flying for awhile, no matter what the outcome of traffic court. You might be grounded for good if it's you second violation. And, the FAA can go back on you five years looking for alcohol related incidences.

I promise you, you won't find that many drunk drivers who are active pilots. The cost is just too great. I think it would have the same effect if it were this tough for licensed drivers.

Anonymous said...

pretrial shaming by gov't happens due to one sole reason - the lawyer industrial complex (aba membership) allows it to happen. making money and creating more work opportunities for lawyers trumps protecting the rights and justice. if lawyers really cared about protecting rights and delivering justice, this would never happen.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:10, in Texas they've taken away the license of more than a million drivers through the driver responsibility surcharge, and most of them still drive. What you suggest is unrealistic and unenforceable: Cars aren't airplanes and I don't have to go through airport security to reach my driveway.

As for "shaming" in era of the founding fathers, a) without electronic media the impact wasn't nearly as widespread and didn't follow you from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and b) the frontier gave folks a safety valve to remove themselves from the situation that we do not possess today. The Founding Fathers, I'm certain, couldn't imagine a world where petty misdemeanors, particularly related to drinking, could keep one from getting a job for years after the fact.

Lawton Davis asks, "I also lived in several communities where arrest reports were placed in the newspaper, unless it was soemone of influence or the golfing buddy of the executive staff at the newspaper, and it did not impact the trials from what we could see. Locally, some of the smaller newspapers still do this too; why should the citizenry be deprived public information?"

My answer: For the same reason they don't publish it for "someone of influence or the golfing buddy of the executive staff." They recognize it does harm because they don't want to harm their pals. So the "why" not to do it is self evident from your own commentary; the more fundamental question "why" is why does the public need to know about unproven allegations? What if anything constructive can they do with that information, particularly if the charges turn out to be unprovable?

As mentioned in the post, in 2009 only 44% of DWI arrests resulted in convictions. So for the 56%, publishing the arrest on their website but not the case dismissal when it comes up IMO amounts to de facto libel.

As for the stats, 12,000 deaths nationally is not de minimis, but it pales in comparison to more serious causes of death. E.g., flu and pneumonia killed 52,000 in 2009, so would more lives be saved if some of the DWI enforcement money were instead spent on flu shots? Probably. 36,500 died of suicide that year, so why isn't there the same weeping and gnashing of teeth over failing to provide mental-health care? The demagogic focus on DWI enforcement (as opposed to, say, pushing for public transit or zoning changes as a solution), results from a witch-hunt mentality, not a rational cost-benefit assessment of how best to protect the public from the most serious threats.

Anonymous said...

Grits said:
"Cars aren't airplanes and I don't have to go through airport security to reach my driveway."

You missed my point. A pilot can lose his flying privileges for DRIVING drunk. I don't go through an airport security checkpoint either to get to my driveway. And, even if I did, they aren't going to check me for DWI. I still say that the problem with DWI enforcement is that the punishment isn't severe enough. If it were as severe for everyday drivers as it is for pilots, there would be less drunks on the road. Heck, even when I was in Germany many eons ago, you could lose your driving privileges for life if you were caught driving while intoxicated. You didn't dare do it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:20, actually it's you who don't understand: It's easy to stop somebody from flying a plane if they get a DWI. It's virtually impossible sans incarceration to ensure they won't get behind the wheel of a car, and you can't inarcerate every drunk driver ad infinitum. Cars are not planes; I don't need permission from an air traffic controller to drive one.

If you lose your flying privileges, you're right, you cannot fly. By comparison, more than a million Texans have lost their licenses because of the driver responsibility surcharge, and nearly all of them still drive. Therein lies the fallacy on which your views so comfortably rest. Taking away "driving privileges" doesn't mean someone won't drive, it just means they'll do it unlicensed, can't buy insurance, etc..

Ironically, judges have told the Legislature that too-harsh punishments are causing DWI conviction rates to decline and that driver license suspensions as you suggest haven't worked in the real world. Sorry if reality interferes with your punishment fetish, but that's the truth.

Robert Rister said...

Does pre-conviction shaming deter DWI? Isn't the very nature of drinking that one overlooks potential consequences? I'd think it doesn't. As for preventing drunk drivers from driving more, maybe in 20 years the technology will be widespread but that will involve numerous threats to civil liberties, that may be unavoidable regardless of this issue.

Anonymous said...

Grits said:
"It's easy to stop somebody from flying a plane if they get a DWI... I don't need permission from an aircraft cxontroller to fly one."

Actually, it isn't, and no you don't need permission from an aircraft controller to fly off in an airplane. Nothing would physically stop them from driving up to the local airport, strolling to their airplane, and taking off from an uncontrolled airport into class "G" and "E" airspace. (Which, is where most private pilots fly.) What DOES stop them is what will happen to them if they get caught. The fine will be a humongus amount of money, and/or serious jailtime. And, since you are violating federal laws, the fed will own you, literally. Local and state laws are much more leinient. The fed has no problem garnishing wages or confiscating property - even your airplane.

I agree that so many peole now drive around with suspended or revoked licenses. But, that's because nothing bad happens to them in comparison. Start confiscating and auctioning off automobiles, and I'll bet that will stop a lot of drunks from driving.

But, here's something to think about. Compare what you pay in auto insurance to what a pilot pays for aircraft/flight insurance. To insure myself and a 100k airplane, I carry a one million dollar liability policy, 100k comprehensive, and 50k personal injury for myself and each passenger. I only pay about 800 dollars/year for that policy. It cost me more to insure my car. That's because before I can fly, I have to be tested with a flight review by an FAA instructor every two years, and pass a flight medical exam every year, which includes looking for ANY history of ANY alcohol related problems. (The FAA regularly checks the National Driver Register). My flight insurance is cheap because if I so much as cough wrong during these evaluations, I am immediately taken out of the pilots' seat for further evaluation. And, if I get caught flying during this eval time, it will cost me a whole lot more than any DWI in a car ever would. And, FAA agents don't need any kind of warrant to walk up to you as you enter an airfield and ask to see your paperwork. You better have it all in order. You would be surprised at the podunk airports where they might show up.

The bottom line is, there is a lower percentage of pilots DRIVING drunk than the equal percentage of regular drivers. That's because pilots have a lot more to lose.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:07, personally I'm not ready to eliminate warrant/probable cause requirements and other constitutional restrictions on police, as has been done with the FAA, just because of demagoguery and fearmongering over what in the VAST majority of cases is a victimless crime. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, those who would trade essential liberties for temporary safety deserve neither.

And BTW, there are a LOT of reasons your flight insurance is cheaper than your car, mostly that you fly less than you drive and there are far fewer others flying that are available for you to crash into. You're confusing correlation with causation. Your insurance rates are based on many underwriting criteria besides the ones you mention.

That said, if you think it's reasonable to regulate auto drivers at the same level the feds regulate airplane pilots, fine ... just don't complain about the massive local tax hikes that ensue, since the locals can't borrow to pay for it like the feds do. Good luck pushing that idea. I'm sure it's gonna be a real winner.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I'd argue that back in the day of our founding fathers, people were far less mobile than they are now and with far smaller communities back then, everyone knew "the town drunkards" (reading old newspapers on microfiche was a hobby). Contrary to your assertions, I'd suggest that a) misdemeanors were treated much harsher for a long time than they are now and b) given our modern mobility, more opportunities exist now to move elsewhere than ever before.

Sure, a record follows you around more easily but why should that be considered such a bad thing? As an employer, I'd like to know if candidate A has a problem with alcohol if I'm hiring for one of the many jobs it could have an impact. Following your logic, any public servant should be immune from having allegations posted in the media too, at least until they are convicted and all appeals are over; hardly a pill many are going to want to swallow.

As for the ability of some to escape being posted, that's where you bloggers can come in and point out the others (as well as the media playing favorites). If a few are skipped, for whatever reason, work on making the system as fair as possible or provide an all encompassing shield to all under every circumstance in abject opposition to our right to know (be it where our money is going regarding arrests, who is being tried for a crime, or where money is being spent).

The statistics of death are a bit difficult to balance though. In this country at least, flu shots are now available for free or dirt cheap to anyone. I don't have the figures for how much that is subsidized but given the enormity of the task developing such vaccines, I'm pretty sure it worked in the favor of all to accomplish this task.

We collectively have subsidized mental health facilities for generations, mass transportation, and a slew of other things that have helped reduce deaths so while I get where you're coming from, it is not that different in scope or scale if you take a long term look.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:40, You can go elsewhere more easily today, but because of electronic media, databases, etc., the record follows you in a way that would have been unfathomable for those heading to the frontier or even to other cities or states in early America. And that's a bad thing because we're creating a huge class of people with needless employment barriers and employing scarlet-letter tactics for petty offenses in a way that violates decency, common sense and any rational cost-benefit analysis.

You write, "Following your logic, any public servant should be immune from having allegations posted in the media." But that is the exact opposite of what I said, which was that, just as in libel law, public figures merit different treatment than non-public figures in the media, an assertion that's also in the original post. I realize it's easier to argue with straw men, but please try to address my actual arguments instead of made up ones that you think you have a better chance at countering.

Also, I didn't argue for making convictions secret, so employers, etc., would still have all the info they need on cases where charges were provable. What benefit do you think they would gain from also knowing about unproven or false accusations before they've been vetted by the legal system?

FWIW, in the British system the public knows full well "where [their] money is going regarding arrests, who is being tried for a crime, or where money is being spent." They just get all the information at a different stage in the process, with no ill effects that I can judge.

So my question remains: Before accusations are proven, what do you want the public to do with that information? What good is it, particularly if the allegations turn out to be false, charges dismissed, etc.? IMO it often does harm and there's no upside from preconviction publicity except for if-it-bleeds-it-leads media selling advertising and demagogic grandstanding by public officials.

Now, if you want to go for 100% transparency, that's a different matter. If you want to publish charges in the press, and simultaneously provide all the evidence in your case file, warts and all, to back it up, that's one thing. But they don't, and won't. Instead, they publish the accusation only and then otherwise refuse to comment. When the case is dismissed, there are seldom public retractions and never apologies. Arrests are touted widely; dismissals are swept under the rug. E.g, where's the Tarrant DA's list of dismissals on the website? I guarantee there isn't one.

Finally, with less than half as many reporters in play as TX had twenty years ago, there's no manpower for the press to watchdog every case as you suggest and "point out the others." The volume has grown too high. We've criminalized so much activity that 30-41% of youth will have an arrest record by age 23. Just think how much long-term earning potential (and resulting tax revenue, economic growth, etc.), will be reduced by comparison to earlier eras that didn't take a scarlet-letter approach. It's cutting off our economic nose to spite a puritanical face. At some point, when you need to get out of a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.

Anonymous said...

Grits, conceptually speaking, you either print allegations or not regardless if they involve the President, a county janitor, or the baker down the street. The "public figure" exception being used on anyone and everyone in government employ seems about as worthwhile as saying that anyone receiving government benefits of any kind receive the same treatment. It is either right or wrong to print damaging accusations before guilt is established; which side of the fence you reside on is up to you.

And while our founding fathers might not have envisioned many of the wonderful advances we have made over the years, they probably would be horrified at many others; their mindsets indeed puritanical by comparison. Still, they provided a road map that we still (mostly) follow, some deviations including far more application of rights than they ever provided (in practice or on paper). As some have pointed out, the information has long been published so the change is that more youth are making poor decisions (for whatever reason). Better they change their behavior than the rest of us suffer.

Why is it a "scarlet letter" for one to know if a person has had problems that can most certainly impact their position, pre or post conviction? Most jobs are not impacted but if you employ heavy machinery workers, drivers, or those in certain kinds of fields, there is a public policy interest in the information. How many people think those formally accused of child molestation should work in day care, teaching elementary school children, or similar fields?

Finally, while the number of formal media publishers may well have dropped in half, the ranks have swelled tremendously in regards to the bloggers, mentioned. Blogging has become increasingly important as an alternative means of gathering information and frankly, many do a better job than the vast majority of reporters have done for generations. To claim it is impossible to track something as a numbers game seems curious when the total number of "reporters" has increased and kept out of the control of official sources like the print media and television stations.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@3:08: The "public figure" concept is well-established in libel law and since its definition is not as broad as you you describe it, I feel no need to debate your false assumptions on the subject. Regardless, whether you agree with the distinction, it's one the courts have relied on for generations.

You ask: "Why is it a "scarlet letter" for one to know if a person has had problems that can most certainly impact their position, pre or post conviction?"

A: If you're talking pre-conviction, as is this post, because it may not be true. Moreover, it's problematic to widely publicize arrests but not do the same for dismissals. You seem to not want to address that aspect in any of your comments, but it's pretty fundamental.

As for bloggers filling in for the MSM, I take it you don't blog or if you did you'd know that notion is a JOKE with a capital J. Nobody but the independently wealthy can spend that much time on a project without getting paid, and that's coming from somebody who generates a lot more unpaid, independent prose and oversight than most. What I do here is not representative of most of the blogosphere and even so does not (remotely) provide comprehensive coverage the way professional journalists can, and in the past, more often did.

Happy new year in any event.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I'm all for posting dismissals with the same zeal as accusations are printed. I'd make it so that they were given the same page in the paper, spot on the news, and/or typeface rather than the current practice of ignoring them or burying such content deep in the back pages (or worse, only in small runs of the paper; the Chron typically has several printings).

Libel law aside, the "right" thing to do is to treat all equally. This is in keeping with the majority of comments here and I advocate doing likewise. I don't think being employed by the government automatically means it is open season on someone while self employment translates into a virtual shield, my firefighter friends tell me that anytime they or their public safety brethren are accused of anything, it is played up heavily in the media but if they are found innocent, not a peep from anyone.

Having gainfully run a business that involved heavy machinery and driving, I'd be remiss if I did not want to know the details about a potential employee's pending court case in anything that could come back to haunt me, hence my belief that more information is a good thing. At least I balance that out with an educated opinion of Constitutional protections and a sense of fairness rather than a mob mentality. A fair trade? :)

Anyway, keep up the good work. Decent people can agree to disagree from time to time.