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The Law And The Morality Police

In some countries, the term "morality police" refers to people who are actually empowered under the law to enforce moral principles about decency, religion, sexuality and more. People can be punished for engaging in a wide range of behaviors, some not strictly covered under the law. Legal commentators in the U.S. are not kind to morality police in other countries, but we have our own form right here at home.

While vague morality laws are not a key feature of the federal criminal code, public outrage is clearly a factor in the way some crimes are prosecuted. People accused of sex crimes, particularly those involving children, are often convicted in the court of public opinion long before a trial has been scheduled. These cases draw headlines and public scrutiny. That publicity makes it far less likely that a prosecutor will drop questionable charges or offer a reasonable settlement. 

The presumption of innocence is a bedrock principle of the criminal justice system. A person is innocent until proven guilty even when facing charges of child pornography or sexual abuse. The outrage of the public and the inflammatory efforts of the press cannot be allowed to erode our rights as individuals.

Criminal trials are often lengthy. They are not easily reduced to sound bites and cannot be described in 140 characters or less. They are, however, necessary for the operation of justice. The next time you read a headline about an arrest for child molestation, child pornography or other salacious crimes, try to remember that innocent people are arrested and even convicted in U.S. courts on a regular basis. We are all innocent until proven guilty and that presumption cannot be allowed to waiver from situation to situation. 

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Kohlmetz, Steen & Hanrahan, P.C.

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Portland, OR 97201
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