The Office of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff recently launched a website featuring arrest videos of alleged Internet predators. Shurtleff unveiled the site, which he heralded as a means to deter sex offenses, at a public press conference on August 27, 2008.
At that time, members of the press and public were shown a video of a man being led away in handcuffs; the video also featured interviews with law enforcement officials who commented on the danger that this arrested man poses to society.
The ACLU of Utah is deeply concerned by the Attorney General’s actions. At the time of the press conference, the ACLU of Utah issued an official statement condemning the tactics used as part of this new website.
In particular, the ACLU of Utah stated emphatically that fundamental to the United States’ legal system is the principle that individuals are innocent until proven guilty; mere arrest does not equate to guilt.
However, widely publicizing an arrest in this sensational manner can cause members of the public to conclude that the arrested man is guilty. While news media often documents and airs arrests, there is a particular danger that an arrested individual will be found guilty in the court of public opinion when the video is released by an agency of the state, such as the Office of the Attorney General. Incidentally, at the time of this statement, the man featured in that video has yet to be charged with any crime.
“Government websites can play an important role in education and public safety,” stated Public Policy Advocate William Carlson. “Unfortunately, sensationalized videos of arrests before conviction do little to educate or improve safety.”
William Carlson and Staff Attorney Marina Lowe of the ACLU of Utah both attended the press conference in order to raise the organization’s concerns. Local television and newspaper outlets covered the press conference and interviewed both William and Marina.