The highly controversial sheriff from Maricopa, Arizona, Joe Arpaio may be facing serious charges of civil rights abuses and discrimination, but Hollywood considers him such a laugh that they are giving him his own reality show. He intends to use suspects as props for scenes written by comedy writers and staffed by actors. It is the latest sign of the decline of our criminal justice system as our judges, prosecutors, and sheriffs vie for notoriety on television and in the press.
In the last two decades, we have seen faux judges like Judge Judy become the dominant image of a perfect jurist — even being regularly interviewed on Larry King on her legal insights. Real judges have openly striven to become television judges, promoting themselves with dramatic court performances in high profile cases like Judge Larry Seidlin during the Anna Nicole Smith custody case.
Abusive and notorious prosecutors like Nancy Grace were given their own shows despite a career marked by repeated violations and reprimands, here.
Within this trend, the horrific concept of Arpaio’s “Smile: You’re Under Arrest” make perfect sense. Arpaio has long distinguished himself by abusing inmates and pandering to the media. Recently, he boasted “I’m not going to brag, but there isn’t anybody in the world who doesn’t know who this sheriff is.”
The people of Arizona should be ashamed of empowering such a person, but Arpaio continues to operate freely despite an unprecedented number of lawsuits against him.
The show will feature on Fox and makes “When Animals Attack” look like a serious nature show.
The show is likely to raise some interesting legal questions over the privacy rights of suspects. Arpaio is using these suspects for his personal publicity and gain. They are literally being used as props in a money-making enterprise. There is no difference between Arpaio renting out these inmates to businesses. Like being handed over to a circus for people to gawk at, these inmates are being used for entertainment — and Arpaio insatiable desire for publicity.
Even if the shows can get the consent of the suspects, the Arizona legislature should show a modicum of integrity and ban this practice. The Supreme Court has acted to curtail such programs, reaffirming the liability of sheriffs who allow reality shows into the cruisers and barring such programs from arrest scenes. In 1999, Hanlon v. Berger and Wilson v. Layne, the Court ruled that televised raids on homes or ride alongs violated the constitutional rights of suspects.
This program will continue the merging of criminal law and entertainment — the American version of the Roman games. With each of these shows, there is a major corrosive impact on the quality and professionalism of our legal system.
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