Being accused of a crime is probably one of the most serious matters that can attach to a person, ranking below actually being a victim of a crime. From a personal standpoint, both are dehumanizing, invasive, and externally driven experiences. But from a legal standpoint, being the accused is also a question, because you may very well not have actually committed the crime.
An accusation is not a conviction, though many tend to behave as if it were. The criminal justice system recognizes a “presumption of innocence” as it ferries one through the system, but the casual observer is not held to any such standard. People see and hear things, process the information, and then make up their own minds.
Everything is filtered through one’s own perspective and experience. That’s where that dangerous agent known as “bias” creeps into the mix. The news media, the entity that frequently holds itself out to be impartial, has a bias also, but are not as quick to recognize it.
The news is full of people accused of crimes; their stories are the life’s breath for media accounts. “The local pharmacist did what?” “A city official shot a gun in public?” The stories and the controversies never stop, and the imaginations continue to flow.
But if you really are innocent, the presumption does nothing to remove the stain of accusation. You will carry that designation, no matter the outcome, which is why it’s important to view all accounts of a crime with a skeptical eye. Yes, it is easy to jump to conclusions, but to err is not only human; it is also likely.
Crime is bad and should and must be punished, sometimes harshly. This is no plea for leniency or extraordinary forgiveness. The criminal justice system and the media have a duty to be fair and above all, accurate. We hope the police and the prosecutors are honest in the pursuit of their duties, but Heaven help you if you fall prey to the bad actors.
And with the media, they have just as much power to twist and turn, and portray a situation any way they wish. The truth is subjective. It can be a scary place to be.
So when it comes to reports of crime, even in the face of seemingly clear facts, give a little consideration for the benefit of the doubt. A presumption of innocence is only a presumption after all. But let the authorities prove the case in a court of law. Don’t let the court of public opinion win the day.