Do we want our police to be shaming suspects before trial?

On Behalf of | Jul 17, 2017 | Criminal Defense |

When a young cosmetology student named Jaleel went to a house to style someone’s hair, he happened to be there when police burst in and searched the place. Drugs were found on the premises, and Jaleel was caught up in the dragnet. Most of the charges against him were dropped before trial, and he was ultimately acquitted altogether. That didn’t stop the arrest from nearly derailing his life.

Even though he actually had no connection with the drug activity, his family and cosmetology school found out about the arrest on the local police department’s Facebook page. He was almost kicked out of school, and he was certainly humiliated.

“I was angry at the time,” he told the Associated Press. “I was found not guilty. They’re just putting people’s faces up there like it’s OK.”

But is it OK? Yes, mug shots are part of the public record, so it’s probably completely legal for police departments to post them. But some departments are going even further than simply posting a mug shot and the details of the arrest. Some are adding humorous comments at the suspects’ expense.

For example, one department posted a comedic commentary after an allegedly intoxicated woman ran her car into several mailboxes before crashing into someone’s yard. When police arrived, she asked them to call a tow truck.

“Sorry Amy, we can’t move the car right now. If we do, what will you use to hold yourself up?” the arresting officer wrote on Facebook after describing the incident.

Essentially innocent amusement or violation of constitutional principle?

In regards to the allegedly drunken driver, one follower wrote on the police department’s Facebook page, “Great job (getting drunks off the road and entertaining us).”

Not everyone thinks the commentary is innocent amusement, however. After all, the Bill of Rights guarantees us the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, doesn’t it?

The issue reminds us again of how serious a mere accusation can be. The effect on the person’s life can be extremely serious. They may end up in jail for an extended period if they can’t afford or don’t qualify for bail. That could mean the loss of their job and housing. At the very least, most defendants will take a serious hit to their reputations. And it can be humiliating to be teased, especially at one of the lowest moments of your life.

So ask yourself this: Even if it’s legal for police to publically shame people on social media, is it really what you want to see them doing?

FindLaw Network