All to often, a horrible crime is committed, and the news media seizes upon a “likely suspect.”  This person then has their name dragged through the mud, and is harassed 24/7, only to be proven innocent at a later date.  When that happens, the media circus dies down, and this innocent person is left with little to no recourse.  Such a situation undermines justice in the worst way, and we as a society really should respect the “innocent until proven guilty” rule:

A perfect example of this injustice is the case of Kevin Fox, whose daughter Riley Fox was sexually assaulted and killed.  Kevin fox was arrested by the police and held in jail.  The media vilified him, with front page stories, talk show segments, and relentless coverage in the evening news.  The police recovered DNA evidence from the body of Riley fox, however it was not tested for months.  When it was finally tested, the DNA results conclusively proved that Kevin Fox was not the person who  sexually assaulted and killed Riley Fox.  Kevin Fox was released after 8 months in jail.

Sadly, this is an all too common occurrence.  We as a society like to pride ourselves as being “civilized,” yet ruining the reputation and life of someone who is not had their day in court is anything but civilized.  I have seen some fellow Americans turn their noses up at societies whose justice consists of stoning by an angry mob, yet these same people take time out of their day to demonize the people who have not yet been tried or convicted of any crime (which means they have not had the opportunity to defend themselves).  I would say that the harm inflicted by being falsely accused of killing a member, then having that accusation publicized across the country, has to be at least as great as the harm that many angry mobs inflict in developing countries.

One final note when it comes to high profile suspects, such as Drew Peterson: A good lawyer will advise his or client to refrain from talking to the media, or even talking to friends and family.  The reason for this is simple: even an innocent person might say something that could be misconstrued or twisted by the prosecution, harming that suspect if the case goes to trial.  Furthermore, a malicious member of the media or former friend may lie about the content of the discussion, so it is better to just not have the discussion in the first place.  To a layman, who is not familiar with this standard legal advice, this makes the defendant seem like they have “something to hide,” when in fact they are simply following prudent advice.

Innocent until proven guilty really should mean something.

Note: I am not suggesting that the news media should refrain from providing news about individuals who are charged with a crime.  Instead, I’m saying that such reporters and commentators should stick to the facts, and not vilify the person who has not yet been convicted.  Even more importantly, we as members of the public should not rush to judge until there has been a trial.