Sgt. Derek Johnson and Pretrial Publicity: Law Enforcement is “Damned-if-it-Does-Damned-if-it-Doesn’t” When Attempting to Balance the Public’s Supposed “Right-to-Know” Against the Defendant’s Right to a Fair Trial
By Ken K. Gourdin
I posted the following at SLTrib.com in response to criticism regarding law enforcement’s failure to release more information after talking with the girlfriend of the suspect in Sgt. Johnson’s murder in the hospital. Salt Lake Tribune coverage can be found here: http://www.sltrib.com/pages/comments?cid=56829606 (as of September 5, 2013 at approximately 12:30 MT, all the article says is that police have spoken with the suspect’s girlfriend but are not releasing any details yet.):
I want this gentleman to get the fair trial and vigorous defense to which he is entitled … followed by the just punishment to which he also is entitled. Releasing too much information too early in the investigation may well impede that objective. There are limits to what prosecutors can say publicly about an investigation and/or a prosecution, and law enforcement is subject to those same limitations.
In any event, those who’ve already developed conspiracy theories regarding this case will never be satisfied no matter how much information is released or how soon that information is released. And those who are reflexively critical of law enforcement will put the latter in their usual, preferred, damned-if-it-does-damned-if-it-doesn’t position: if law enforcement doesn’t release information to which the public feels it is entitled precisely when it feels it is entitled to such information, law enforcement is interfering with the public’s supposed “right-to-know.” But if law enforcement does release information that later turns out to be inaccurate, then the hue-and-cry will be about an alleged vast conspiracy to cover up the truth.