A Texas DA is using Twitter to publish the names of people arrested in the jurisdiction for suspicion of driving under the influence.
Publicly shaming drivers who are arrested for DWI is not a new concept, but it does carry a tremendous potential for causing irreparable damage to the lives of people who may be falsely accused. In a case on Long Island, a woman was featured on a “Wall of Shame” by the Nassau County DA for a DUI arrest before it was revealed that her arrest for erratic driving was actually due to symptoms of complications from Diabetes. Her picture and public information were withdrawn, but not before the woman had suffered considerable embarrassment and public knowledge of the incident. Are people like this woman acceptable collateral damage to prevent drunk driving?
The DA in Montgomery County, Texas seems to think so, and they’re planning to publish information regarding people who have been arrested for DUI (though not convicted of any crime) on their Twitter feed. While arrests are a matter of public record, Twitter posts could show up in Google searches for a long time. An obvious example of unintended harm would be a potential employer finding the information- even if a suspect is cleared in the crime, the information remains floating around the internet ether indefinitely. I selected a name with an uncommon spelling from the feed and Googled it to see how prominent it was- two hours after the name had been posted, it was 5th in Google results for that person’s name.
A Houston-based DWI attorney, Paul B. Kennedy, had this to say about the half-cocked initiative:
Nevermind that being arrested is a very different thing than being convicted and that a person who’s been arrested is still innocent unless proven guilty. And of course the police never make wrongful arrests. And of all people, Montgomery County DA Brett Ligon should know better — after all, he used to be a criminal defense attorney.
My question is should the DA dismiss a case against a motorist or should a motorist be acquitted by a jury of his peers, will Mr. Diepraam offer a public apology on Twitter as well?
@MontgomeryTXDAO doesn’t seem to have any retractions posted, nor does the DA indicate any plans to retract wrongful accusations made via social media.