The fusion of arrest and guilt creates confusion and prejudice for the public, as well as unfair treatment and unnecessary punishments for people who are arrested.
An Arrest Does Not Equate to Guilt
Getting arrested for a crime does not constitute guilt. Arrest and guilt are legally distinct terms, but they are often fused together in the minds of many people. This unfair fusion creates consequences for people who are arrested even when guilt is never proven. It is used in assessing a person’s “risk,” in calculating “recidivism,” and in identifying “offenders.” The fusion of arrest and guilt creates a lot of problems within the justice system.
When a person is arrested, he/she is often considered guilty by public and private sectors. Since an arrest becomes part of an accessible permanent record, mug shots may be posted on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and private individual websites. Arrests can lead to refusal of employment, job loss, disciplinary actions in the workplace, and housing problems. Many people also face threats of losing child custody and the possibility of deportation. People who are arrested and stand trial, but are found not guilty in the end can face a variety of problems and restrictions that impact their personal lives. Unfortunately, many people who are arrested are convicted by the public well before any legal conviction takes place.
Studies on recidivism must rely on some sort of proxy to assess a person’s risk of re-offending. Court judges frequently use an arrest record to gauge a person’s risk of committing future crimes, regardless of guilt or innocence. Relying on the number of arrests and re-arrests a person has can be very inaccurate, since many people who are arrested see their charges dropped or dismissed. Arrest records do not portray an accurate picture of criminality. Arrest data also fails to account for individuals involved in criminal activity who have been missed, overlooked, or given less priority by law enforcement. Each year in the U.S., 11 million people are arrested for some type of offense, but few of these arrests lead to actual convictions.
Many people say the criminal justice system needs reforms to protect the innocent. Many law enforcement officials and criminal defense attorneys argue that recidivism should only be measured by known convictions, rather than by a person’s arrest record. Has the criminal justice system abandoned the presumption of innocence?