On December 23, 2010, an Illinois State’s Attorney (prosecutor) was stopped by police after the police had received a phone call or calls that the prosecutor’s car was crossing the center line. There is no information that the police officer who stopped the prosecutor actually saw any bad driving. The prosecutor was arrested after he refused Field Sobriety Tests and he refused a breath test. A few days after his arrest he was fired. How’s that for Due Process?
What is wrong with this picture? The guy is first convicted by the media. He is then convicted by his employer – the County of Madison. Is it the media’s job to convict? How about the State’s Attorney in Madison County? Is it their job to convict? No! It’s the purview of the jury to determine someone’s guilty or innocence.
A journalist is supposed to write the facts and then let the public come to his or her own conclusion. The preamble to The Society of Professional Journalists provides “[m]embers of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.” Do journalists, when reporting on crimes in general, seek the truth by providing a fair account? Whether on TV or in the newspaper, the journalist typically convicts the accused without the all of the facts.
Journalists have an ethical duty to minimize harm to those being covered in a news report. Do you really think they abide by that particular cannon of ethics? I don’t think so. As the Society of Professional Journalist provides;
- Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
- Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
- Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
- Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
- Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
- Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
- Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
- Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.”
Let’s address the conduct of the prosecuting agency the accused “drunk driver” works for. Excuse me. Used to work for. They fired this guy without abiding by the law they are supposed to uphold. The prosecutor who is accused of DUI is presumed innocent until a jury of his peers says otherwise. According to the National District Attorney’s Association, a prosecuting agency should promote public confidence in our legal system. Do you have confidence in our legal system when a prosecuting agency fires one of its own without Due Process?
The circumstances of this prosecutor is not unusual. Thousands of people across the nation who are accused of DUI are presumed guilty by the media and by our prosecuting agencies. Sometimes the government and media combine forces to convict. Just look at those DUI commercials they put out.
Just imagine if both the media and prosecutors abided by their codes of ethics. Maybe then a person accused of DUI would be presumed innocent.