I am writing this letter as both a local practicing attorney and an involved community member. For some time now, ETV News has published the so called “Carbon County Jail Bookings” and posted the same on Facebook. This practice has bothered me for some time. Recently, through the growth of social media, the bookings have become a negative corner for people to prejudge and disparage members of our small community through the comment section on Facebook. This is problematic for several reasons.
First, the bookings are published without any disclaimer of the booking’s accuracy. The typical citizen is not aware of what a “jail commitment”, “72-hour hold”, or what a charge involves. Quite frankly, anybody can be charged for a crime if there is someone else saying they committed a crime. A charge only requires “probable cause”, or simply put, about a 50% chance that a crime was committed.
Second, the problem with the bookings is compounded because the public does not hear the outcome of the “charge”. In the past, reporters would frequently—almost weekly–attend court and report on the cases initially listed as charges. These reports updated the public on what charges were dismissed, what charges went to trial, and what charges were acquitted at trial. Today, the news media rarely attends court and follows the status of cases. In fact, in the past, I’ve had reporters call me to get information on a case, or my opinion of a legal issue. Those calls ended long ago.
Finally, because the court proceedings are not followed and reported with the same frequency that the bookings are published, the community is left to make snap judgements about what they see in the bookings. They are not given the whole picture. They are left to assume that these community members are guilty. This flies in the face of our Nation’s creed that ALL people are presumed innocent. The bookings also feed this misguided notion that “where there is smoke, there is fire”.
Through my twelve-year criminal defense practice, I have represented countless individuals who were convicted in the Court of public opinion (and the Facebook comments on ETV News’s Jail Booking posts) only to be acquitted or have the charges dismissed or prosecutions declined. But those cases never hit the media. Those cases never end up in a Facebook post. This is tragic. It divides our close-knit community and creates an “Us vs. Them” mentality.
As such, I plead with you to stop posting the jail bookings. They truly are the low-hanging fruit of journalism. They mischaracterize the criminal justice system and do a disservice to the community. They often become a gossip corner that damage reputations and employment. If you continue to publish the bookings, please place an obvious disclaimer, pointing out the inadequacies and pitfalls of the bookings. I would also love to see aggressive and in-depth journalism that paints a complete picture of our local criminal justice system’s inner workings. I know myself and other criminal justice professionals are always open to answer questions about the criminal justice process and current events.
Thank you for your continued commitment to our community!
Robert A Oliver
Attorney at Law
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