When police officers identify a suspect in a serious crime, such as an assault or a murder, they go to great lengths to locate him or her. This is only natural; these are, after all, very serious violent crimes. In recent years, police have increasingly been asking for the public’s help in locating fugitives, utilizing the power of social media to spread their information.
Baltimore Police Department, for example, occasionally designates a fugitive “Public Enemy Number One” in the hope that the public will assist them in locating the suspect. The designation usually comes with a press conference and disclosures on multiple social media sites; tipsters can even submit their information using a Twitter hashtag.
The Baltimore Police Department recently used this tactic to apprehend a man wanted on suspicion of committing a violent crime against two Baltimore residents. The 20-year-old man is suspected of shooting two pedestrians as they left a house party earlier this year; both suffered nonfatal wounds.
In an attempt to locate the man, Baltimore Police issued a press conference naming him Public Enemy Number One. Within minutes, he was in custody — but according to police, this was coincidence, rather than the result of the press conference. Police haven’t explained the means they used to locate the suspect, but it appears the press conference did not play a role in his arrest.
Yet it may still play a role in the legal proceedings to come. Now that his name has been made public and police have accused him so widely of committing this crime, it may be difficult for attorneys to secure an unbiased jury to witness his trial. Indeed, this is a common complaint in highly publicized cases; all too often, the public prejudges the suspect, making it more difficult for him or her to receive a fair trial. Judges and defense attorneys in such cases must take care to ensure that fairness and equality are upheld during the court proceedings.
The Baltimore Sun, “Baltimore police ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ becomes outreach tool” Justin George, Sep. 13, 2013