Do “Most Wanted” Shows Inspire Vigilante Justice?

The fact that individuals responsible for committing heinous crimes often remain on the run can make the grieving process excruciatingly difficult for victims and their families. As our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers understand, those who have suffered at the hands of criminals, and the public at large, have an entirely reasonable interest in bringing those who have committed horrible crimes to justice.
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The problem is, however, that television programs such as “America’s Most Wanted” and the newly minted, John Walsh-hosted show “The Hunt” often inspire members of the public to take matters into their own (untrained, uinformed and incapable) hands.

Our nation is one of laws; until found guilty by a jury of their peers, individuals are not to be treated as criminals and they’re certainly not to be punished. The justice system in this country allows for lawyers, juries and judges to determine the fate of individuals convicted of crimes. Members of the public, as they are frequently inspired to do by these types of “Most Wanted” shows, should not take it upon themselves to inflict harm on those they deem worthy of punishing.

John Walsh, former host of “America’s Most Wanted,” has recently launched a new, similar show entiteld “The Hunt,” which airs on CNN. The show depicts a variety of alleged, heinous crimes and plasters the face of fugitives and suspected criminals on millions of television screens all over the country and, thanks to the internet, all over the world. Mr. Walsh’s passion for “hunting” down criminals is understandable; over 20 years ago, his son Adam was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Hollywood, FL. Unfortunately, his captor and murderer was never apprehended.

Shows like “The Hunt” include reenactments of the alleged crimes that tug at the heartstrings of television viewers and encourage them to be on the “look out” (or, “the hunt”) for the individuals depicted in the program. And, despite the fact that legal disclaiemrs on these types of shows advise individuals to contact law enforcement officers instead of taking matters into their own hands, our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know that sometiems emotions overpower reason and impassioned individuals take it upon themselves to punish those who they think have escaped justice.

For instance, man named Shane Miller, accused of murdering his family, was recently featured on “The Hunt.” Shortly thereafter, his bodily remains were foud on the banks of the Mattole River in California, and were later identified as his via dental records. It’s striking that he was just found dead after the airing of the relevant show on “The Hunt,” because police had been searching for him since May of last year.

Now, it isn’t clear how the man died, but our criminal defense lawyers do know a few things that are relevant in making such a determination: 1) police officers don’t kill people and toss them into a river, 2) a handrun and ammunition were found near the body and, 3) it isn’t likely that Miller would have or could have murdered himself in such a way that his body was found in a river in a nearly unidentifiable state. Based on this, it is entirely reasonable to assume that Shane Miller was killed in an act of vigilante justice, by someone or some group of people who did not want to let the criminal justice system run its course.

To be sure, shows like the ones described above do serve a purpose; many people do call in with tips that alert law enforcement officers to the location of a suspect. For example, after the airing of a show about an accused child and animal molestor Charles Mozdir, police received a tip about his whereabouts and were able to locate him; a gunfight ensued, and the suspect was shot dead after firing at police officers. Still, while solving ulsolved crimes is respectable and outright praiseworthy, when shows run the risk of inspiring outlandish, vigilante justice, we as a society must consider their total effect.

If you have any questions about this or any other criminal justice-related issue, or if you have been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, please contact our criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert. To schedule a free consultation, call 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to assisting you!

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