In November, Harris County authorities charged 12 young people — including one juvenile and others ranging in age from 18 to 21 — with crimes related to a raft of burglaries, robberies and auto thefts. Police say the arrests have broken up an organized crime ring and cleared some 89 criminal cases.
Crime ring resorted to violence, police say
Police report that the alleged members of the crime ring broke into multiple houses and cars, along with committing armed robbery. Officers contend that the suspects in custody are the key players in the ring.
They say the arrests have helped them clear a minimum of 89 open cases, including 74 car break-ins, just under a dozen burglaries to homes, one theft of a car and one drive-by shooting. Investigators said members of the ring frequently used social media to locate buyers in an attempt to make quick cash with stolen items.
In some cases, alleged ring members targeted easy marks, such as cars that were left unlocked. In other cases, they used violence, police said, citing one case in which suspects shot at a man who came outside in an effort to protect his property. Surveillance video played a key role in linking suspects to the crimes, police said.
Fair trials for alleged group members?
Looking at this case through the eyes of a defense attorney highlights the use of some troubling language. In press accounts, the suspects often are depicted as part of a group rather than as individuals. For example, one report states, “The suspects would work together. They all know one another and some are family.”
Another report noted that the 12 young people “had the idea” to commit break-ins and “resell the stolen goods, including TVs and guns, for cash.” By not using a qualifier such as “allegedly” before “had the idea,” the report implies the guilt of all suspects.
Such imprecise language may be necessary for brief accounts in which it’s not feasible to individually name suspects and the nature of charges against them. And it can be argued that suspects are not on trial in the media.
However, the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to a fair trial by an impartial jury. When members of the media depict multiple suspects as definitive members of an accused crime ring, they imply guilt solely by association. They also impair the odds of selecting a fair and impartial jury for each suspect.
Such media depictions of suspects — who are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty — highlight the need for each and every person charged with a crime to retain a professional defense attorney. If you’ve been accused of a serious crime, work with an attorney with years of experience in criminal defense. Contact Clancy & Clancy Attorneys at Law at (214) 550-5771.