The Canadian Bar Association
Criminal

The enduring stigma of criminal charges in the Internet age

Lingering online media stories has meant that the stigma of being charged with a crime often has long-lasting impacts on an accused person – regardless of the outcome of the case, Toronto criminal lawyer Maureen Salama tells Law Times.

“Once it’s up there, it’s up there,” she says.

Salama, associate at Brauti Thorning Zibarras LLP, makes the comments in an article in the legal publication that points to how it's becoming a growing issue for criminal lawyers who deal with concerns from clients about stories that remain on the Internet even if their legal matter goes in their favour.

She says clients can feel the impact for a long time, particularly because media outlets generally refuse to remove stories, says the article.

“I think the concern is that media outlets lose a lot of interest in these stories,” says Salama.

She says the media may initially report on charges being laid in a sexual assault case, for example, but won't follow the case through to trial or the ultimate resolution of the matter, says Law Times.

“By the time we get to a trial in those situations, it could be years later,” she says.

“This is something that’s going to constantly come up for them in their personal lives, their professional lives,” she adds, citing a client who has told her every person he asks out on a date quickly learns about his case through a Google search. “He was just devastated and he couldn’t believe it.

“The stigma of just being charged is sometimes a punishment in and of itself.”

In terms of the remedies that clients may have to deal with this issue, there aren't a lot of options, says Salama. 

"In many cases, the main solution is to get the media outlet to run an update on the outcome of the case. That means finding all of the stories that have run and contacting the various editors involved. It also means getting the various documents such as a copy of the certified information showing the withdrawn charges," says the article. 

And to get that done, Salama says clients have to go to great lengths. She notes that her role as counsel primarily involves helping track down the information for the client to take to the media outlet, says the article. The result, she notes, is often a short story detailing the outcome of the case and many media outlets will still link to the original article in the new one, it says.

 

 

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