Monday, June 18, 2012
In the fall of 1984, after a jury acquitted two parents she had accused of sexually molesting their children and before she was forced to drop charges against the twenty-one remaining defendants she had accused of child sex abuse related charges, the chief prosecutor in Jordan, Minnesota said that she was "sick to death of things like the presumption of innocence. After the tragic mass murders at Columbine High School in 1999, Mothers Against Drunk Driving ("MADD") issued a press release classifying the "murders as 'insignificant' compared to those killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents.
What do these two announcements have in common? This Article suggests that each is but one manifestation of the pathology that exists regarding certain crimes and the reaction to them on the part of the public, the media, legislative bodies, law enforcement authorities, and ultimately members of the judicial system.
There came a point, however, when reaction turned into over-reaction and remedial measures became excessive. This Article examines some of that over-reaction, seeks to explain why it occurs with certain crimes, fleshes out the lessons to be learned from the overreactions, and offers suggestions on how to avoid recurrences of this type of social pathology. For the most part, this Article uses those crimes related to the serious problems that child sex abusers and drunk drivers pose as illustrations of how crimes become hot crimes and then how such crimes are treated.
Section II of this Article discusses the genesis of a hot crime, what factors appear to be needed for a crime to become hot, and how each factor contributes to the way in which such crimes are ultimately treated. Section III looks at the types of excesses that hot crimes breed. Section IV examines the kind of flaws in society's responses to hot crimes that breed these excesses, Section V discusses how the concept that has been referred to as moral panic explains the hot crimes phenomenon. Lastly, Section VI explores ways in which society, particularly law enforcement and legal institutions, can respond to serious crimes without the need to react with excessive and arguably unconstitutional measures.