Let’s get this out in the open: we know that criminal defense lawyers can sometimes appear a bit, well, harsh on Tennessee police. The police are in the habit of seeking punishment for the accused, while we’re in the business of seeking justice in the courts. It can seem like the two are at odds, even though we’re really just two sides of the same coin.
But Tennessee law enforcement officials are getting it wrong with their new plan to keep details about rapists secret from the public. And there’s a lot of evidence –all circumstantial, we admit, but apparent nonetheless – that the bill is a form of retribution against our news media outlets. If ever there was a time to knock down a bill, it’s now.
What the bill is, and how it will affect you
In short, the bill proposes that any information about alleged serial rapists would be kept under lock and key by the police. Therefore, men and women who live in an area where there is a suspected rapist on the loose would not know about it. The most prominent example of how giving people information gives them power is Robert Jason Burdick, the “wooded rapist.” He’s currently serving 100 years in prison for 13 charges of rape, though he was convicted on five of them. The police informed people in the neighborhoods he stalked of his appearance and his modus operandi, and it no doubt protected more woman than it didn’t.
The new bill will stop the police from giving out that information. Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville filed it, claiming that it would help protect the identities of rape victims from the press – but since the press doesn’t disclose victims’ identities, the bill is surely unnecessary. What it really does is hide the details regarding alleged rapes, making potential victims less able to protect themselves.
Tennessee leads the country in violent crimes, and sexual assault is on that list. And while it might seem like criminal defense attorneys would rejoice over a bill that protects the identities of their potential clients, that’s an unfair assumption to make. We protect the rights of the accused in court, yes – but we don’t want to make it easier to commit a crime as vicious as rape. We are and have wives, sisters and mothers, friends and family who might fall prey to this most heinous of crimes.
Believe us – there isn’t a criminal defense attorney in Tennessee who’s happy about this bill. Just like police, we believe in protecting the people we serve. This bill isn’t the way to do it.