“They’ve been punished by the media coverage.”
This phrase, or variations of it, is often used by defence lawyers lobbying for lighter sentences for their clients.
We even hear it from judges. And they all have a point… but only to a point.
Indeed, anyone accused of a crime who is unlucky enough to get unwanted media attention pays a price. Some readers or viewers no doubt will rush to judgment, convinced that only the guilty get charged. Sadly, this is not always the case. Innocent people – and all are deemed innocent until proven guilty, in the eyes of our system – suffer from that same system in which justice is meant to be conducted in public.
However, once a guilty plea is entered or a conviction rendered, it should be incumbent on the courts to consider any suffering caused by public scrutiny to be off-limits when sentencing.
Recently, the lawyer for confessed dog thief Louise Reid told the judge that a news article on her involvement in stealing dogs was posted on a bulletin board at her work; and a front-page story appeared in the newspaper her granddaughter delivers.
We can only hope Judge Peder Gulbransen did not consider that as “punishment” when he gave her a one-year probation and ordered her to pay $2,500 in restitution, as the dog was never returned.
The argument in court is almost always along the lines that news reports caused the offender embarrassment. The question that must be asked is, what exactly did the guilty parties think would happen? Did they only decide to break the law because they thought no one would find out?
The media exists to inform the public of what is happening in their communities; to help recognize those who do well and hold accountable those who choose to act outside the law.
There is a simple way to minimize the discomfort: don’t break the law.
– Black Press