Saturday, September 6, 2008

Guilty until proven innocent?

There is a very interesting debate going on right now on CJ's site about the Peoria Police Departments decision to now portray individuals charged with drug crimes on the city of Peoria website. Initially, I made this comment:

Key word *arrested*, not convicted. Settingsgard will think its a great idea until the first time one of his own kids or loved ones is falsely accused or in the wrong place at the wrong time. What a difficult predicament THAT could be. Suddenly, it might not be such a great idea. Think about it.. we are all just a mis-step away. You or yours might be next. Very dangerous precedent. Very bad idea.

Mr. Helmut O'hooligan responded shortly thereafter citing examples of families that were harmed in drug arrests gone wrong. He correctly pointed out that mistaken identities and false accusations do occur.

So what will the city of Peoria's position be if someone is harassed, evicted, or assaulted because neighbors or landlords saw the "accused" name on the website? Or worse, the same fate befalls their children- all because of an arrest, for which one is presumed innocent.

Of course, the Chief of Police will argue that this is "public information", but in reality, how likely is it that your landlord or neighbor is searching the public records on a regular basis? A past divorce decree might be public info. too, but does that mean we want them plastered on public websites?

In my opinion, Settingsgard is exposing the city of Peoria to unnecessary risk and liability by going down this road. Did he solicit a "legal opinion"? So what? Even if a court of law would side on behalf of the city it could still be expensive and messy litigation - litigation that a wealthy person could afford, but an indigent person could not. Could this create an even further divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots"?

I would advise all citizens to closely monitor this program, and make sure that it's impact applies fairly and equally to ALL citizens. If this is the city policy - no one should be exempt. Be on the lookout for fine upstanding well connected citizens to get a "pass". This is not to suggest that anyone in particular has a propensity towards corruption, but this policy in and of itself just lends itself to abuse. It is not "if" but "when" someone with a notable public personna is going to get nailed.

Perhaps Settingsgard will argue that it is a worthwhile and proven deterrent. But humor me for just a moment. Would it not also be a deterrent to automatically put to death anyone accused of a drug crime? Stupid argument? Well, yes, because there are other factors to consider. Such as: Should we not also factor in basic human rights and dignity? the premise that all men are innocent until proven guilty? the impact this could have on children and families? Are we willing to sacrifice for the greater good the reputation of even one person that has been falsely accused? Isn't the protection of individual human rights and dignity what separates us from a heathen society?

I have a hard time swallowing that the risk is worth the reward. Cutesy, novel idea.. but fundamentally wrong.

*Disclaimer* I am not an attorney, but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night


Raoul Duke said...

This could be a nice pre-cursor to a sort of facebook for the purveyors of substances. These guys need to network a bit, I know that I do not want to waste my time talking with 7 or 8 crack dealers when all I need is some weed, conversely how frustrating is it to have to wade through a bunch of dudes that just sell weed when you are in need of some good crank. God forbid you want to hit the streets and find a handful of good shrooms, who do you have to blow to find a good shroom dealer these days? At least now I can go to one website and get the name, picture and hopefully the general area for a dealer in my substance of choice. I say bravo to Peoria for being on the cutting edge here and taking the bull by the horns to solve a problem that has been plaguing us for years.

Helmut O' Hooligan said...

Diane, thanks for your informed comments on Peoria Chronicle and for continuing coverage of this very poor idea on your blog.

P.S. Good points raoul duke, and long live Hunter S. Thompson.

Diane Vespa said...

I agree! Excellent comments about something that just feels so wrong. So Helmut, were you mad at your Mr. and Mrs O'hooligan when they named you helmut?

Dave H. said...

Nope, that's just an internet pseudonym I use when I am ranting about the drug war. Due to my employment in public safety, I have to be discreet when I make honest (some would say "radical") critiques of the status quo. The moniker is simply a reference to my dual German-Irish heritage. Thanks again, Diane.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Diane Vespa said...

Anon - I'm sorry to say you heard right.. The PPD intent is to publish photos of names of those that have been ARRESTED, not convicted. Hard to believe, but yes its true. A very hostile policy that can inflict a substantial amount of harm to the family unit.

Chef Kevin said...

Just curious, Diane, how do you feel about the PPD putting pictures of those arrested for prostitution related offenses on their website? I've seen it and it does say they are innocent until proven guilty, but...

Diane Vespa said...

Chef, exact same thing. In fact on more than one occasion, whether the Chief of Police would remember or not, I voiced my objections to him personally in more than one venue.

Ryan Johnson said...

Not a stupid argument....death penalty for drug crime would be a proper punishment and one helluva deterrent. I'd be in favor of it.