A teen under arrest in a suspected drug case. Courtesy San Diego County

By Stefano L. Molea

The news is filled with stories of criminal justice issues. They might be about an officer-involved shooting, a string of home burglaries, or of a particularly scary type of story regarding the attempted kidnapping of a child.

Recently, there was a report of a broad daylight kidnapping attempt of a child in the parking lot of a Costco store in Vista. The story said that a man opened the back door of a vehicle and tried to take out a 2-year-old child. We learned that the parents got out of the vehicle, confronted him, and the father of the child, understandably based on what he knew, gave the guy a beating and waited for San Diego Sheriff’s deputies to arrive.

People on social media were absolutely panicked when they learned that the man accused of this crime had bailed out of custody. Many were worried about the safety of the community, and as a parent, I understand that.

In response to the community concerns and the outrage that the accused was “allowed” to bail out, the sheriff’s department, to its credit, released a video discovered during the investigation. Essentially, it shows the accused acting strange, walking nearby, opening the back door of the vehicle as it started to back up from a parking spot, and then shutting the door at the same time that the driver and the child’s mom jumped out of the car to confront him.

The initial statement reported by the media was: “Deputies arrested a man Saturday after they say he tried to kidnap a 2-year-old from a car in a North County parking lot.”

Stefano Molea

Later, the press release that accompanied the clarifying video essentially said — and I am reading between the lines here; you should read it check it for yourself — that there isn’t an ongoing threat because the incident appears to have been a mistake rather than an attempted kidnapping. I believe most people who watch the newly released video would agree that it does not appear to be an attempted kidnapping of a child.

So why am I highlighting this incident? It is definitely not as a criticism of the parents; they did what everyone would have done — they are good parents protecting their kids.

I am discussing this to provide an example of how incomplete information can have serious consequences for the accused, the community, and the integrity of our criminal justice system. People on social media were tracking the alleged kidnapper and posting his whereabouts. They were in a frenzy — worried about the safety of their community.

Remember, there is a reason why someone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. And, most importantly, the information reported in the media, most of the time, is incomplete and other times, just downright wrong. I have personally worked on cases reported in the media, and it happens.

My bottom line is this: pause before making up your mind. Question how information is gathered, the timing, and understand that until the case makes its way through the filtering system that is our criminal justice system, the truth may take a while to come out, and sometimes, it is not properly reported in the news.

This is coming from someone who has represented people who have later been found to be 100% factually innocent, but the media would have said otherwise based on the charges and initial allegations.

Stefano L. Molea is a San Diego criminal defense lawyer. He is a member of the board of directors for the San Diego Criminal Defense Bar Association and other organizations dedicated to defending and protecting the rights of those accused of or charged with a crime.

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