Empire Editorial: Innocent until reported on?

Long before someone alleged to have committed a crime ever gets their day in court, they are tried, judged and sentenced in the court of public opinion.

When the Empire reports on criminal activity or court proceedings, it’s under the assumption “innocent until proven guilty.” We use words like “alleged” and “suspected” because it’s too early to make definitive statements about an individual’s innocence or guilt.

Our society tends to treat someone charged with a crime as though they are already guilty. Unfortunately, an allegation of wrongdoing alone is enough to destroy a person’s reputation. This is the same tactic politicians often use to discredit an opponent.

Destroying a person’s credibility and smearing their name is never why we report on such situations. Our goal is to report what is happening in the community and in public courts of law. Judgement should be reserved until all the facts have been presented in court and a verdict is handed down. The legal process is an ongoing one that requires prudence and understanding.

Anyone who has ever read the comments section beneath any news story related to alleged wrongdoing knows this isn’t how it works, however. Instead anonymous community members condemn individuals for an alleged crime before all the facts have been presented and without knowing the full scope of the story.

When suspects are arrested or charged of a crime, very little information is made available at first. Police investigations limit the amount of information that can be released to the public, and once an individual has been charged, defense attorneys advise their clients to not speak to the press in fear that anything said could weaken the defense’s case. More often than not the suspect doesn’t get to tell their side of the story until the case goes to court, which can take anywhere from a few months to a few years.

Reporting on crime is part of a newspaper’s public service to the community. When someone has been charged with a crime, members of the community have the right to know, which is why court hearings and related legal documents are made available to all members of the public.

Pointing a finger and doling out blame is easy, but remember that court cases take time to unfold. The legal process moves at its own pace, but in the end the truth usually prevails. Just because we report on a situation doesn’t mean we’re implying guilt. We hope our community will allow that process to unfold before individuals are sentenced by the court of public opinion.

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