If you cannot be part of the solution, at least be part of the problem? (OPINION)

Photo by Penny Mathews

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Dallas Hyland is a columnist for St. George News and blogs as The Amateur Broad Thinker. The opinions stated in this article are solely his own and not those of St. George News.

This last week there arose an issue surrounding an editorial decision about publishing the names of people arrested and also posting their mug shot.

To be sure, this is not a new issue. It has just gotten some attention due to the editor having taken a stand on what he believed to be a principal: that of the abiding principal of the assumption of innocence.

My question for the public and their response which indicated an almost outcry to the injustice of not having the right to know who was arrested and why is, what do you think presumption of innocence means?

You see, I get that we all say the words, but the very nature of the bookings page indicates that we have lost sight of something here, and in light of many things in recent news regarding the disintegration of civil liberties, perhaps this is a discussion worth having.

So ask yourself this question and answer with the shrewd honesty you so boldly display in your criticism of this decision: when you read about a person’s arrest, do you assume they are innocent, really? Are you impervious to the natural tendency towards a predisposition towards the accused? Furthermore, if you were selected to be on this person’s jury, would you be able to hear the case in an unbiased state of mind?

I think not.

In fact, I think that the bookings page should not exist period and you might be surprised to know that I have spoken to some higher ranking officials in local law enforcement who agree. When I asked why they supplied a bookings pagem, their reply floored me – “Because you guys ask for it.”

And, in the interest of driving a point home, do you follow up on all these cases and find out who was convicted and acquitted? We here in the press sure don’t. We scratch the neurotic itch the public has for dirty laundry and don’t spend a second following up on these cases. We don’t print retractions or cover the cases where the accused were found innocent and give them a chance to explain and clear there good name.

It is hard to imagine that this cannot be grasped, but try to put yourselves in the same shoes and ask yourself honestly if you would believe justice was being served if you knew you were facing an accusation and that everyone already assumed your guilt because your right to the presumption of innocence was tainted at the outset of the process.

I realize that often a person was most likely arrested because of something they actually did, and if due process is allowed its course, they will be convicted. But it is almost ludicrous that it has to be pointed out that the purpose of the presumption of innocence is to protect someone from being wrongfully convicted. We are a nation who once held our liberty so dear, we believed and went as far as to mandate in our laws our premise that it is better to see a guilty man go free, than an innocent one go to jail.

Do I need to even ask, what if you were wrongfully accused? Would that change your take on the arrest page?

The sheer hypocrisy here is the same people bemoaning the lack of integrity on the part of the press, for not aiding them in this desire to skip a step in the judiciary process, are likely the same people decrying the injustice of the recent passing of the indefinite detention legislation.

There is a chilling correlation between the erosion of our liberties and the ease with which we have surrendered them, and this simple observation that we do not even abide the principals of liberty at the most agrarian level of the judiciary process. That of maintaining the innocence of a person from the get go and taking the measures to insure the person gets a fair, unbiased, and just process as mandated by our constitution.

Now, I get it: You are probably sick and tired of hearing about all this liberty and constitution stuff week after week. That much is painfully obvious by the ease with which the recent legislation taking away your right to trial a by jury and your right to address your accuser among other things were taken from you. Maybe you were surfing the arrest page seeing who the guilty people are and not even remotely aware that you could be part of the problem.

I think the editor was trying to take a stand and the only thing I would say is it was not quite bold enough. Were it my decision, I would have removed the arrest page from the paper altogether and let it be known why. It is not because I am not a staunch supporter of our laws and those who enforce them but precisely the opposite, I am.

See you out there.

dhyland@stgnews.com

Copyright 2011 St. George News. This material may not be published or rewritten without written consent.

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Posted in Columnists, Opinion / Columns / ShowsTagged ,

7 Comments

  • M Heiner December 21, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    As one whose mug shot has appeared on the bookings page, I applaud your article and/or opinion. STG residents have always enjoyed a little dirty laundry. Presumption of innocence is required, and when I was arrested I was glad my friends knew the charges levied against me, thus making the entire process easier. A few saw my picture, didn’t review the charges, and concluded I must be a bad man for the same. Ignorance and elitism are the real problems, not the publication.

  • Jen December 21, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    St. George News originally had the policy that if you print the name in the first place, you MUST follow it all the way through and print a story of innocence or guilt.

  • Michael December 21, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    I agree on all points.

    Just as many Americans are willing to sacrifice constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties,many Southern Utahns seem perfectly comfortable seeing the accused be presumed guilty in such a public manner, so long as they don’t think they might ever end up on the wrong end of the figurative gun.

    The law should apply to all Americans equally. Being accused of a crime or suspected of terrorism should not make anybody a second-class citizen without legal rights. As Ben Franklin said, “those who would trade liberty for security will lose both and deserve neither.”

  • Big @$$ Bob December 22, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Agree, Micheal^^. On another note, semi-related, I must add that I disagree and have always wondered why media such as The Spectrum publishes addresses of the local arrested. To me, an exact address down to the details of an apartment number, seems dangerous and too personal to be all out in the open. I think it’s wrong. I don’t see any other newspapers printing addresses of citizens out of their control. The name and city of residence of the arrested person is plenty of information for the public eye…

    • Oldtimer December 22, 2011 at 7:58 am

      Big Bob–All of this information that the Spectrum publishes is from the Washinigton County Sherrifs Dept website. The have photos and all other info pertaining to the arrest right there on the bookings portion of the web page. The local paper is just reproducing public info.

      An even better website is the Sherrif in AZ who has a “mugshot of the day” contest on their bookings site. Might as well have fun with it too.

  • The Relentless MoM (((((bryce)))))) December 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    What an EXCELLENT Article this is. And Sadly, it’s all true. Including that it is hard to grasp, struggeling through the actual exsperience is like a battle and not something you would wish upon another, or in my sons case, another mothers minor child. It’ much easier and productive to share articles like this one by Dallas Hyland The Ameture Broad Thinking, Believe me when I tell you it’s much less painful to care and share, than it wil be when the next Wrongful Conviction hits closer to home.
    Bryce Seton Vandergrift’s MoM

  • tiredwife December 29, 2011 at 9:40 am

    I applaud STG NEWS for their stance on this issue. After watching someone dear to me be fired for being arrested, I’ve had my eyes opened to the narrow mindedness of our area. There is no presumption of innoncence here. All you must have happen is to be arressted. Doesn’t matter that all the charges are dropped, the job is still gone. Things that should be private matters are publizied at whim, leaving those who love this person to be victimized by the process. Sad day and sad society we have become when we deny everyday citizens there rights to due process in the name of public records.

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