When police officers identify a suspect in a serious crime, such as an
assault or a murder, they go to great lengths to locate him or her. This
is only natural; these are, after all, very serious violent crimes. In
recent years, police have increasingly been asking for the public’s
help in locating fugitives, utilizing the power of social media to spread
Baltimore Police Department, for example, occasionally designates a fugitive
“Public Enemy Number One” in the hope that the public will
assist them in locating the suspect. The designation usually comes with
a press conference and disclosures on multiple social media sites; tipsters
can even submit their information using a Twitter hashtag.
The Baltimore Police Department recently used this tactic to apprehend
a man wanted on suspicion of committing a violent crime against two Baltimore
residents. The 20-year-old man is suspected of shooting two pedestrians
as they left a house party earlier this year; both suffered nonfatal wounds.
In an attempt to locate the man, Baltimore Police issued a press conference
naming him Public Enemy Number One. Within minutes, he was in custody
— but according to police, this was coincidence, rather than the
result of the press conference. Police haven’t explained the means
they used to locate the suspect, but it appears the press conference did
not play a role in his arrest.
Yet it may still play a role in the legal proceedings to come. Now that
his name has been made public and police have accused him so widely of
committing this crime, it may be difficult for attorneys to secure an
unbiased jury to witness his trial. Indeed, this is a common complaint
in highly publicized cases; all too often, the public prejudges the suspect,
making it more difficult for him or her to receive a fair trial. Judges
and defense attorneys in such cases must take care to ensure that fairness
and equality are upheld during the court proceedings.
The Baltimore Sun, “Baltimore police ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ becomes outreach tool” Justin George, Sep. 13, 2013