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There is simply nothing worse than being wrongly accused. You haven't broken the law, but there stands another person, accusing you of doing so. Although we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, I'm starting to wonder what that means.
- The January 11, 2015, edition of Saratogian News published a story with the name of a minor who stands accused (but not convicted) of a crime. Isn't he innocent? And shouldn't we take more care than to publish the names of innocent children accused of bad acts?
- The January 12, 2015, edition of the Democrat & Chronicle published the names a group of men who are accused (but not convicted) of soliciting a prostitute. A fake prostitute. A police officer pretending to be a prostitute. Before their lawyers have had a chance to investigate the possibility that they have done nothing wrong, or the possibility that there was entrapment by the police, the D&C not only published their names, but one of them was fired from his "job" as a mascot. (This was a job that he wasn't paid to do, by the way, which sounds like a story about a labor law violation in and of itself - but that is a subject for a different post.) Aren't they all innocent?
- State Police regularly release statements to the press, patting themselves on the back for arresting people who they name and identify with a photograph for committing crimes. I have represented some of those people, and have been successful in obtaining "not guilty" verdicts. Do the State Police issue retractions? No.
- When a person is arrested for DWI, (accused, but not convicted), aren't they innocent? But the courts often require them to sign up for treatment in exchange for being released on their own recognizance (ROR). And the State seizes their driver's license before there has been a real hearing on any issue. This isn't a newspaper. This is a court of law. Aren't these people innocent until proven guilty?
- A violation of the constitutional principle that we are innocent until proven guilty is even codified in - of all things - the New York State Human Rights Law. By it's wording, HRL 296(16) purports to make it legal for both private institutions and the State to discriminate against a person charged, but not convicted, of petit larceny, when it comes to housing. In other words, if you are a 19-year old woman with no criminal record, but you have recently been wrongly accused of shoplifting because the friend you were shopping with at Eastview Mall stuck a lipstick into her purse while you weren't looking and the police overreacted, you have a serious problem if you are applying for housing at a SUNY dormitory in the fall. The applications state that they run a background check on all housing applicants, and they also say that you will be refused housing if you have a pending court matter involving misdemeanor theft (petit larceny, aka shoplifting). This isn't a newspaper or even a court of law - this is the State of New York saying "You are not innocent until you are proven innocent."
People ask me what I do for a living, and I tell them I'm a defense attorney. They ask, "How can you defend criminals?" I respond, "I don't defend criminals. We are all innocent until proven guilty. I defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of New York." Not everybody gets it until they are facing charges.
If you are facing accusations of DWI or any other crime, call your lawyer. It's what I would do. If you find yourself in this situation, contact us at The Militello Law Firm for a free telephone consultation and case evaluation. (585) 485-0025