Post by Randall Ryder
A California community recently announced they are considering publicizing the names of suspected drunk drivers on the police website, but will it have a deterrent effect?
According to a member of the Huntington Beach, California, police department, the goal is not to create "a wall of shame," but to show residents of Huntington Beach that the police are actively policing DUI offenders. A local newspaper had been publishing the names, but stopped in December, which may have led to the police department’s interest in doing so. In addition, the community allegedly has approximately 12 alcohol related deaths each year.
The community is not the first to try and use online publication as a way to deter drunk drivers. In Texas, a District Attorney vowed to use Twitter and tweet the names of people arrested for drunk driving.
Court records are considered public records, meaning anyone can go down to the courthouse and look through court files. In addition, many states have online court record access. Although you cannot always view the documents related to a case, you can see the status of the case. For criminal cases, you can usually see what the individual is charged with.
Looking up court records, however, is different than going to a website or reading about something on Twitter. To look for someone in the court records, most people search by name. Unless you decided to look at court records on a regular basis, you are unlikely to find out if someone you know has been arrested for drunk driving. Along those same lines, defendants are unlikely to feel a large deterrent effect when they know it is relative unlikely someone they know will randomly look up their court file.
It is much easier to go a website that frequently updates who was charged with drunk driving. At the same time, even if the website is easy access, would people actually visit the site to see who was recently charged? Or is it merely effective because it shows people are regularly being arrested for drunk driving?
Should the police in Huntington Beach, or other communities, elect to proceed with publication, it seems prudent to include the ultimate disposition of the case. One inherent danger in publication is individuals with cases that result in dismissal. Having a website that shows them as being charged, but not showing they were not guilty, is not helpful to anyone.
What do you think? Should police departments publish the names of individuals charged with drunk driving?