Is it okay for police to publicly shame people on Facebook?

On Behalf of | Jul 21, 2017 | Drunk Driving, OUI |

It may seem like a good joke at first – police using Facebook to poke fun at some of the people that they arrest and charge for various criminal violations. Some of the posts may seem funny, but they could be a violation of constitutional rights. Those who are accused of drunk driving or other crimes could face irreparable harm from these types of posts.

How could these posts be a violation of our rights? Our country prides itself on various fundamental rights enumerated within the Constitution. One such right, the Eight Amendment, bans the use of “cruel and unusual” forms of punishment.

Public shaming may qualify.

In some cases, forms of public shaming are used as types of punishment and presented as a tool for reformation. One example involves a judge who used her position for illegal activity. Part of her punishment included the requirement that she write out apologies to each member of her staff that she asked to aid in her illegal activities. Thus far, the higher courts stated her punishment fit within the bounds of the Constitution. But the punishment went even further.

The sentencing judge also stated that the offending judge must take an official court photo while wearing handcuffs and that the photo would then be sent to every state judge along with an apology for defiling the office. Ultimately, the Supreme Court in the state nullified the photo apology. This fuels the question: when does the use of a photo cross into illegal forms of cruel and unusual punishment? Is it okay for police to put mug shots up on Facebook to defame those who are accused of committing crimes?

Some police departments are getting heat for this practice. Local civil rights groups are fighting back, pushing for the departments to refrain from this form of public humiliation. These efforts are finding success, most recently in Philadelphia.

What can others who are facing criminal charges learn from these battles? Unfortunately, use of unusual punishment like public shaming is becoming more popular. As a result, anyone that is facing allegations of criminal activity is wise to seek legal counsel. An attorney will advocate for your rights, including fighting against any attempts of unusual punishment.