Monday, May 16, 2011

Should bloggers refrain from naming acquitted or not-yet-convicted defendants? What about "online reputation"?

Should “amateur” bloggers be expected to refrain from naming unconvicted or acquitted  criminal defendants?  The issue came to mind today as I wrote a story about a teacher acquitted after charges from an apparently disgruntled student on my “Bil on Major Issues” blog.   If the person’s name is used in a blog posting, it is likely to appear again in public search engine results, sometimes near the top of the results (or come up in “Next Blog”).

Online reputation damage still continues before conviction, or especially after acquittal, as this story shows.  The media is quick to report arrests of public officials and especially teachers or others in public trust.   Is it somehow acceptable for the “establishment” press to do this but for amateurs (who may have a less obvious legitimate “purpose”) to do so?  Sometimes these arrests turn out to be unjust.

I’m struck by something else, too: despite the right to a jury trial and the “innocent until proven guilty” presumption in our system in the United States, in practice, innocent criminal defendants bear much of the personal burden of the charges; they often have to pay for their own defense.  That also applies to civil cases (like defense from “shakedown lawsuits” by copyright trolls like Righthaven).  Is that a critique of our weakening sense of social cohesion?  Is that something “family” is supposed to take care of?

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