Delaware Criminal Defense Attorney, Ben Schwartz, answers a viewer question. The viewer said, “I was in the newspaper when I was arrested, but when the charges were dropped, there was no news about that and can I demand a retraction?”
Hi, I’m attorney Ben Schwartz,
Today we’re going to answer a viewer question. This is from an anonymous viewer in Wilmington, Delaware. He wrote-in and he said, “I was in the newspaper when I was arrested, but when the charges were dropped, there was no news about that and can I demand a retraction?” So, here’s the deal. When you’re arrested, oftentimes it makes it into the paper. The way it makes it into the paper is that the police agency will publish a press release. They’ll send it to all the local newspapers and online news outlets and then your mugshot and a story about how you got arrested and what you got arrested for appears in the paper. That’s how everyone finds out.
One of the disconcerting things about this is that if you have a good result in the case, say the charges get dismissed, or you go to trial and you’re found not guilty, the paper doesn’t automatically print a follow-up news story to say, “Hey, you’re not a bad person. You were found not guilty. You’re innocent, and therefore people should take that into consideration.” It just doesn’t appear. But at the same time, what you have to realize is, unless you’re writing and sending out a press release to those news outlets, oftentimes you don’t have any reasonable expectation that they’re going to do a followup piece because nobody’s watching the case.
At news agencies these days, I can say across the board, things are pretty tight. It’s not like the olden days when there were a lot of reporters, maybe there would be a beat reporter in your town or city that covered court proceedings, that covered criminal trials. It’s not like that in most areas anymore. You’ve got to be your own advocate, or you’ve got to get your attorney to do a press release and send it out to the local news agencies so that they can print a follow-up story.
Now, the question was, “Can I demand a retraction?” A retraction is something when you say to a lawyer, “Hey, I want a retraction from the newspaper.” That’s a specific thing, that’s a specific legal term. A “retraction” is where the newspaper publishes a story that’s false and you contact the newspaper and you say, hey, I’m going to sue you for defamation of character and the newspaper will print a retraction to try and undo some of the damage that they caused with the defamatory story.
In the situation where you’re arrested and the newspaper publishes a piece about your arrest, that’s not necessarily going to be defamatory, I mean, it could be, you could have an attorney review it to determine if it’s defamatory. But what newspapers typically publish is not untruths, what they normally publish is the report of your arrest. If you were actually arrested, and they published a story saying you were arrested, that’s not false; it’s true, they’re reporting an actual thing that happened. So it’s not defamation if they’re printing the truth, so you would not ask for a retraction of truthful material.
What you would do is, you would do your own press release, or have your PR agent or your attorney do a press release for you saying that, “Hey, as a follow-up to that previous story reporting your arrest, there’s new news.” You went to court and you were found not guilty, or the prosecution determined that there was not sufficient evidence and they dismissed the case, or you had some other type of good result that shows that you’re not guilty of what you were originally arrested for. You send that to the news outlets and hopefully, they publish that. Therefore, people in the community can know that you did not get convicted of whatever you were arrested for.
So I hope that answers the question. It is something that I do have to say, I’ve handled an awful lot of criminal cases, serious criminal cases in my life, and it’s always bothered me that the newspapers are quick to publish a report that some prominent figure got arrested and charged with some crime, but they’re very slow when it comes to publishing the follow-up article to say what really happened, and what the outcome of the court case was. It’s always bothered me, but at the same time, the remedy for it is you do your own press release, you contact the reporters directly, you make friends with the reporters, and you give them the rest of the information so that they can do a follow-up story and inform the general public of what the truth is and what the outcome was.
I hope that answers the question, it’s a very, very good question. If you have a question for me, anything pertaining to the law, personal injury, litigation, medical malpractice, criminal defense, anything along those lines, please send me an email, I’d love to try and do a video about your question.
Thanks for watching!