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The Rights of Victims and the Accused

Monday, January 02, 2006

I know this took me longer to complete than I indicated on the Trial Redundancy post. Sorry.

There is much that is said regarding victim's rights and I am an advocate of victim's rights. Of course, that is probably not saying much, as most people would claim to be in favor of victim's rights.

For instance, I believe that a victim of a crime ought to be properly cared for and compensated for their loss. I believe that a victim (or the family of a victim in the event of a murder) should be given opportunity to make input into the sentencing of the criminal. I believe that a victim's identity (for example, a rape victim) should be protected from release by the media.

There is one thing, however, that I have thought about for awhile now. I am not sure of the feasibility of this idea, but I want to throw it out and see what is wrong with my thinking in this area.

What about the rights of the accused?

Now, please be clear about this - I believe that people convicted of a crime ought to be punished. In fact, I believe that this punishment needs to often be more severe than what is currently handed down and should definitely be swifter than it is usually accomplished.

My concern, however, is about what happens to the accused before there is ever a trial.

In our current situation, when a person is accused of a crime (especially a sensational or serious crime) this information automatically gets released to the media and the trial often occurs in the media (and by the public at large) long before an actual trial occurs.

I believe that this is wrong.

One of the principles of our society is supposed to be that a person is innocent until proven guilty. As a result of our current system, however, the accused person is publicly humiliated and has a ruined reputation whether the facts actually end up showing the person guilty or not.

Certain cases of "celebrities" illustrate this point. For instance, the case of L.A. Lakers Basketball star Kobe Bryant a couple of years ago. Now, I don't know very much about Kobe Bryant personally and obviously he admitted to adultery in this situation (something that the Bible indicates is as a very serious and heinous sin in and of itself), but for a year or so there was much said in the media regarding the fact that he had been accused of raping a woman in Colorado. Eventually (if I understand things correctly), the charges in this case got dropped.

Now, I am not arguing for Kobe Bryant's innocence or guilt in the above mentioned case. What I am arguing is that I (and you, dear reader) should not even know there was a case until after Mr. Bryant was convicted of the crime. (In this case, of course, we would therefore not known about it at all since there was no conviction.) While someone like Kobe Bryant is famous and has the money and people to be able to get out his side of the story and "repair his image", many normal people who are accused of things do not have that ability.

Now, let's take this to the real world for a minute. Brian McCrorie over at Sharper Iron has asked for prayer concerning people who are close to him who have apparently been accused of something regarding their children. Since he has chosen not to reveal details, I will not speculate on them here, but this is clearly an example of my concern. This family's name has now been dragged through the media and connected to the accusations that are made against them, yet without there being any kind of trial as of yet. I don't know Brian peronally, but I expect that his belief in the innocence of these people is probably accurate. If so, this family is being torn apart, humiliated, and their ministry (at least in their current location) is effectively ended over nothing. Even if the people accused do end up being proven guilty and convicted of something, is there really a reason why this needs to be made public until that is known for sure?

I remember a story of a situation in Michigan (some details are fuzzy over the years) in the mid 1980s when I was a teenager and newly saved. As I remember the story, a Youth Pastor in Michigan (who also taught at the church's Christian school) who was accused of some type of misconduct with two teenage girls at the Christian school. The media got hold of the story and the school, the church, the Youth Pastor, and the name of Christ were all given a black eye as the story unfolded in the press. Long after this had been a media story, one of the girls admitted that the two girls had made up the story to get back at the Youth Pastor for something he had done that they did not like and that there was no bases for the accusation. The second girl agreed with that the first girl was telling the truth when confronted with the other girls story. However, while the church and school managed to recover, the Youth Pastor was effectively out of the ministry because of the scandal associated with his name.

We have managed to fairly effectively keep the identification of the accusers (and by extension assumed victims) from being public knowledge through the adoption of things such as rape shield laws. My concern is that we should also try to keep the identification of the accused from being public knowledge by the adoption of similar laws.

Now, I recognize that there are probably some difficulties about this both in theory and in practice. I also recognize that it is probably a lot harder for a politician to push for the "Rights of the Accused" than it is to push for "Rights of Victims." But, I do believe this conversation needs to be taking place.

Just my thoughts,



Andy Rupert said...

After reading through your post one time, I think you are right. Unfortunately, people can listen to police radio and read who has been accused in the paper the next morning.

It would be nice if things were handled more discretely. But that would take a lot of work. Some would cry "freedom of speech" and insist that public records should be made known. So, I'm not sure how changes would really be made after so many years of available information.

Frank Sansone said...

Isle Kerguelen,

Thanks for your comments. I had been worried I was yelling into the wind!

I agree completely that it would take a lot of work and a lot of fighting to get any kind of legislation through that would deal with this. And since being an advocate of "The Rights of the Accused" does not have the same type of political appeal as an advocate of "Victim's Rights", I doubt that there will be very many politicians who would be willing to take on the fight.

I am sure there would be "freedom of speech" cries, as well. I would think that there should be a way to counter that claim by using the "Rape Shield" laws already in place. In other words, if the name of the accuser in a rape case can be forbidden from being published, it would seem that there should be a way to do the same thing with the name of tha accused.

Thanks again for commenting.

Jason said...

While you make some good points, there are also dangers. For instance, if this youth pastor was involved in illegal (and presumably immoral) activities, those whose children interact with this man have a right to know sooner than later. Just because a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty does not mean that caution is not appropriate.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there needs to be a safeguard for the accused. Defamation of character is the end result of the media's involvement in any case. Public persecution occurs long after the accused is acquited or found not guilty simply for the fact that the a name was posted in a newspaper or displayed on television. The wrongly accused individual is forced to move from the area just to avoid such activities. Once a person is accused of a crime, it will follow them for the rest of their life, all because somebody wants to get revenge publicly.