Over 100 Years of Combined Experience in Criminal Law

Our Public Media: Quick to Judge, Slow to Correct, How Can This Happen? (Part 3 of 3)

After our firm obtained a Not Guilty verdict at a jury trial in a sexual assault case against a minor, we were surprised when no media outlet reported on it. There were several reasons for our surprise: first, Not Guilty verdict on sexual assault cases involving minors are rare, and very difficult to obtain, and, secondly, when our client was originally charged, there seemed to be a media firestorm announcing the charges.

When our client was originally charged, media outlets were quick to recite the awful details about those charges. The reason was simple: the facts were outrageous and terrible, and involved a step-father raping his minor step-daughter. It was a crime that required a prison sentence from 30 to 80 years that had to be served at 85%, and, consequently, would have meant a life sentence for our client. Add to this that the charges resulted from a multi-county investigation, and it is no wonder why so many media outlets were quick to carry the story.

Given the fervor with which the media announced our client's charges, and, therein, his guilt, it was shocking to us that the media was surprisingly absent at the jury trial in the case. Had they been there, they would have heard all kinds of facts not about our client, but about the botched investigation and the witnesses caught in lies just like you see on television or in the movies. (Those details were discussed in the second in this three part blog article series.) Yet the media was not present at trial, and has yet to report those details.

One has to ask why this is. In order to answer that question, it's necessary to consider how it is that the media gets their news in the first place. For most—if not all—media outlets, they do not have the manpower to station a reporter at a courthouse or town hall during work hours. Because of this, they rely on sources for what the news they publish, whether it be in print or on the airwaves. The sources they rely on are government sources.

For example, when the police arrest and the government prosecutes a person for a scandalous crime, such as raping one's step-daughter, the media would have no clue were it not for the police or prosecution telling them. Because so much of what the media reports comes directly from government sources, some of whom their job is to coordinate media releases, no reporter would ever want to lose that source. (The scariest thing to any reporter is probably being in the dark on a news story that his or her competition has.) This is how media outlets report on arrests, on trial results, and on what some local government body did during a particular day.

Where the problem lies is that any reader or viewer must consider the source of the news that he or she is reading or watching. The police won't announce that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The government won't announce that an investigation was a miscarriage of justice, or that the prosecution of an innocent man was a travesty. Instead, police and prosecutors announce how a vicious criminal is off the streets for his terrible offenses, just as they did in our case. This is more often than not the reason why news stories appear to be in favor of law enforcement, and this is exactly why so many reports of a person's arrest and/or charge make the person sound like the accused is guilty before proven innocent.

After running with the story they are given, reporters are reluctant—if not downright afraid—to run follow-up stories. Following-up on a story requires resources and manpower, and it is far cheaper and faster to simply rely on government announcements for news. Government does not announce its failures or embarrassments, such as losing a jury trial, and reporters run the risk of losing sources of news if they report on those failures and embarrassments.

We reached out to all of the media outlets that reported the law enforcement announcement of our client's charges, and, because it was so one-sided, his guilt as well. We asked why it was none of them ever followed-up on the story. We asked why none of them ever reported on the Not Guilty verdict we obtained for our client. We felt compelled to do so. At the end of the day, an innocent man was accused, his job lost, and life possibly ruined by the reputation he now has as a result of facing criminal charges. At the end of the day, our system prosecuted an innocent man, who would have died in prison had we at Johnson Law Group not obtained the Not Guilty verdict in his case. Sadly, to date, only two media outlets have reported the verdict, and we applaud Peoria Journal-Star and the Morton Times-News for doing so.

Copyright © 2018 by Brendan Bukalski

The information provided in this column is general in nature, and should not be relied upon as legal advice or interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. As a general rule, all specific legal problems should be handled by an individual's attorney. All rights reserved. Any copying, duplication, or commercial use of the information contained in this column is strictly prohibited without prior permission.