Tuesday, June 2, 2009
New York Law Journal (law.com) has a superb article by Vesselin Mitev titled, Court Refuses to Halt Media's Use of 'Perp Walk' Photo. Clearly a court cannot and should not interfere with the right of the press to report the news as they see fit. The fact that jurors may be subjected to photos that may taint their opinion of the accused is left to defense counsel to ask about in voir dire and to exclude those individuals that may have been improperly influenced. And if the government goes too far with their tainting the pool, a change of venue or dismissal may be necessitated. The problem in this regard is the government and not the press use of the material.
But that said, the government practice of perp walks is appalling and all press should seriously consider whether they want to participate in furthering this government (mis)conduct. Perp walks are designed to get the media to buy into press of an accused individual being brought into custody via handcuffs. In white collar matters, the individual would have likely turned themselves in without the need for a handcuffed parade in front of the press and oftentimes fellow workers. The practice is one that is in opposition to our system that affords accused individuals a presumption of innocence until proved guilty by the government. Although the press cannot, and should not, be prohibited from using these photos, one would hope that they would evaluate their own ethics in buying into this government practice. And if the government continues to proceed with perp walks, then the courts need to evaluate whether the government has deliberately tainted the jury pool, and the ethics of this practice.