In the 1980’s Flavor Flav enjoyed wealth and fame as a rapper. Nowadays, if you believe internet gossip articles, not only is he a DUI defendant, but he’s broke, washed up, and blew his millions on a cocaine habit. Who cares? He’s a celebrity, you say. All’s fair in media scrutiny you say. Hold on, I say.
As a DUI defense attorney, I regularly watch and read DUI-related legal and daily news. This week, it’s the fact that celebrity Flavor Flav is facing DUI charges.
My concern with the media coverage of his DUI charges, is that his Constitutionally-protected rights–namely, the Presumption of Innocence, and the Right to a Fair Trial–are being whittle away. You see, even in the age of constant-Kardashian inanity, we criminal defense attorneys still have to worry about protecting a client’s rights at all costs–including rich and famous ones.
Here, Flav’s rights are in danger for a number of reasons. First, the media splashes numerous unflattering pictures of him all over their articles, including his mugshot. So already, before the ENTIRE WORLD knows any of the facts, their opinions are being molded and formed by the suggestive images fed to us through media. We see an unfriendly, unattractive celebrity’s mugshot next to a headline that reads “Flavor Flav: Cops Say He Was Coked up in DUI Arrest.” Maybe he was. Could be true. But it also begins unfairly creating a prejudice, an advantage, to the prosecution, because article after article focuses on these salacious details. If enough people see these unflattering pictures and the stories about cocaine, it makes it that much harder for jurors to remain neutral and unbiased–which is a requirement for a fair trial.
So what we start seeing, is that if enough news outlets keep publishing these articles, it tends to create a de facto PRESUMPTION OF GUILT, and the potential jury pool, if Flav ever goes to trial, might be tainted. A group of 12 people who have had their brains bombarded with article after article and picture after picture about cocaine use, may not be truly impartial. Of course, the best of judges will put pressure onto timid civilians and have them SAY they can erase months or weeks of negative press they have been exposed to, but the reality is, they probably can’t. In the end, it’s a tragedy for our democracy, if we let gossip, news, and innuendo influence our opinions and impressions of defendants long before the first witness has ever put a hand on a bible.
People always wonder why DUI representation is so expensive. Part of the reason is that guaranteeing a fair trial by the defense is an almost Olympic athletic event. There are so many challenges. Law enforcement piles on many dollars and many agencies who are all stakeholders in guaranteeing convictions. I’ve spent two entire days just on DUI jury selection BECAUSE we as a society detest DUI drivers so much.
When societal bias is already strong against DUIs, it becomes supremely important that an accused’s rights remain sacrosanct. This is why the celebrity character assassination of Flavor Flav is more onerous: if they can do it Flavor Flav, they can do it to anyone. And then on that remote chance that one of us is charged with a crime, and we claim we are innocent,who will believe us when we face an onslaught of negative publicity? Who would you believe? CNN, FOX News, TMZ, etc. or Flavor Flav? The cop who spoke to TMZ or Flavor Flav? That type of credibility battle is being set up by this coverage. And I don’t think the frames of the Constitution would have approved of how these important rights can be tangled up in the modern 24-news era.