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Arrest records: Your right to knowPosted Thursday, October 4, 2007, at 7:49 AM
For years the debate has raged about whether names of arrested persons should be withheld until conviction.
I strongly contend the media must publish/broadcast names of those charged immediately following arrest. It's in the public's best interest to know.
A judge ruled last week that Nashville arrest records must remain open. Police there had been "banned" from releasing arrest records since 1974 (after someone later cleared of charges claimed old records hurt his chance to get a job) but, as the familiar TV face of Metro police spokesperson Don Aaron proved several times a week, the "ban" was ignored.
Last year a Vanderbilt law school faculty member became upset because the Metro police web site identified persons accused of patronizing prostitutes. He wanted the ban enforced.
Charges are not an automatic indication of guilt, although some people may disagree. That's why we have judges, lawyers, trials and law enforcement -- to dig out the truth.
I've had people tell me they were being falsely accused by individuals who had grudges against them, often stemming from broken business or personal relationships. Most of these cases will never make the newspaper; I don't run family fights, personal arguments and the like unless an attack occurred with injuries so serious that someone's life is in danger.
When reading accounts of arrests, pay close attention to the words "alleged" and "allegedly." They make it clear that charges are allegations, not guilty verdicts.
But in the overwhelming majority of cases charges wouldn't have been filed without clear reasons, at least from law enforcement's point of view, for suspicion.
Consider what bad shape we'd be in without disclosure.
*You wouldn't know who is accused of breaking into cars and homes in your neighborhood.
*Mary Winkler's trial wouldn't have been on television. The people of Selmer, without official word of who was charged in her husband's murder, would have had to get by on rumors and word-of-mouth until the guilty verdict was handed down.
*You wouldn't know who is suspected in the Bill Ross murder here last winter, or in any other unfinished cases.
Just three examples. The truth can hurt sometimes. But relying on rumors, which would result from withholding names, would be much worse.
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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.
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