Saturday, January 31, 2009

On the relationship between guilt and punishment

The Smoking Gun shares mug shots of 18 women arrested on charges of prostitution in a "clean-up" by police in Tampa prior to the Super Bowl this Sunday. Smoking Gun obtains the pictures from the website of the local county sheriff, which apparently posts them as a matter of routine. My sense is that many other counties do this as well, with some also posting pictures of clients arrested for soliciting.

This seems deeply wrong to me. Particularly in the case of prostitution, where there may be no penalty other than a night in jail and another notch on the arrest record, the posting of the picture in a public space be a major component of the punishment for the "crime" (and leaving for another day the wisdom of making such voluntary transactions into crimes to begin with). And yet the punishment is done prior to the person having a trial or admitting guilt.

This ordering of punishment and conviction flies in the face of the legal principal that we all learn (from watching police procedurals) of "innocent until proven guilty". If that principal applied here, then the pictures would be posted after the determination of guilt, not before.

So, shame on the county sheriff of Hillsborough County Florida.