Profiting off of criminal prosecutions?

In a court in Ft. Lauderdale, a beleaguered, hard working and assiduous Assistant Chief Public Defender Gordon Weekes Jr. filed motions to dismiss six criminal cases because, he argued in a motion filed for one case last week, arrests made by deputies during episodes of the TLC/Discovery Channel show are “manufactured, rather than detected, crime for the benefit of the lowest form of entertainment: a voyeuristic reality television show.”

In his motion, Mr. Weekes argued that there is a conflict of interest when the police department is paying a detective and she is also being paid to effectuate an arrest for her own financial and reputational profit. In his motion, there is also the story of the sheriff’s department’s refusal to turn over documents and the protracted battle to get them. The motions also discusses and provides proof of how arrestees are pressured and paid to allow their arrests to be on television, and the use the detective’s boss made of her fame to help with his reelection campaign, monies that his foundation was paid, and a host of other unseemly facts. In other words, these prosecutions are for the personal profit of the police officers involved and their department and not for the correct law-enforcement purpose.

I have written before about the pernicious influence of the press — and the slide into the tabloid mentality of even the “real” news in our criminal justice system. In a recent article published by the Reynolds Courts & Media Law Journal called “Criminal Coverage: News, Media, Legal Community, and the Crucible of the Presumption of Innocence.”  I spoke of the challenges facing anyone attempting to defend a case when criminal prosecutions become entertainment: “I have been involved in some high-profile death penalty cases, and, I have confronted the pervasive intrusion of the news media into the criminal justice system. In these cases, news media begins to mirror the tabloids. In states where cameras are allowed in trial courts, the influence is even more pervasive. This influence may have profound effects on the nature of prosecutions, lead to allegations of poisoning of potential jury pools, affect the quality of the defense, and impact judicial decision making. Cameras in the courtroom have also given rise to legal commentators, who have a partisan, political view, and are willing frankly to do anything to be on television. Putting on a show for the news media provokes commentators and encourages further misrepresentation of criminal cases.”

It is difficult to presume innocence in the best of situations. The police wouldn’t arrest someone who isn’t guilty, would they? Where there’s smoke there’s fire, correct? When there is publicity associated with a criminal prosecution, the ability for jurors, judges, and prosecutors and yes, sometimes even defense lawyers, to presume innocence becomes even more circumscribed. Defending a citizen accused of a crime is hard enough without the added monetary and reputational incentive to effectuate an arrest for personal profit and aggrandizement. I spoke to Mr. Weekes after reading about his motion and he was kind enough to send me the motion and supporting documents. While we were speaking he said to me that it is politically difficult for a judge to dismiss these cases and that he recognizes that, however, if the judge does not dismiss it, isn’t that a clear signal to the police and prosecution that this conflict of interest may safely be ignored? The result will be that the big business of crime-as-entertainment will simply continue to turn our system into fodder for the tabloids.

Source: The Huffington Post, “For-Profit Criminal Prosecutions,” Andrea Lyon, January 13, 2012