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Social media may endanger rights of shoplifting defendants

From time to time, people might suffer from a lack of proper judgment or make a mistake. Oftentimes, misdemeanor crimes, such as theft or shoplifting, are just that -- mistakes. However, even these less serious crimes can make a big impact on a person's life.

Penalties for misdemeanor charges in Washington can include fines and even jail time. Charges can affect non-legal aspects of life too, including damaging a person's reputation and affecting their current job or future employment opportunities.

A Washington couple may immediately face some of these non-legal affects after an online smear campaign was started against them. According to authorities, the couple is accused of shoplifting small tortoises from a local pet shop. Allegedly, the man distracted the store's staff while the woman stuck the tortoises into her purse and left. Apparently, each tortoise costs around $100.The store owner claims the incident was recorded on the stores security cameras. By looking at the tape, the owner allegedly identified the couple as regular customers. He then started a Facebook and You Tube campaign against the couple in which he posted the security tapes and identified the couple by name.

Police now say they have received multiple calls about the incident by concerned citizens -- in fact, the small town is abuzz about the couple. Police claim they have sent a summons to appear in court to the couple and have charged them with third-degree theft.

Yet even those accused of misdemeanors, like third-degree theft or shoplifting, have constitutional rights that need to be protected during a criminal proceeding. For example, those accused of any crime have the right to a fair trial and to be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

In this case, the negative social media might endanger the couple's constitutional rights. The couple could very well be treated differently because of this smear campaign. As in any case, those opinions should not be allowed to affect the outcome of the criminal proceedings.

Source: KGW, "WA tortoise thieves shamed on Facebook," Elisa Hahn, Sept. 13, 2012

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