Fake News Criminal Twist From Pizzagate to Assault Weapons

Opinions in blog posts are the sole opinions of the author and do not reflect the views or opinions of 1.800.NoCuffs and The Kavinoky Law Firm.

The recent fake news about the Comet Ping Pong “Pizzagate” incident allegedly born out of a political smear campaign [1], ended with a man waving an assault weapon in the establishment demanding to know if a pedophile ring is being run out of the restaurant’s basement. It isn’t. The entire story about the pizza place and conspiracy theory, now dubbed Pizzagate, is a product of the “fake news” now circulating the internet. The accused Pizzagate gunman, Edgar Maddison Welch, pled not guilty today to charges that include both federal crimes and “local gun charges.” [2]

Fake News

Fake news can be motivated by pushing a political agenda, put out to benefit the finances of an entity, click bait, or even started by a private citizen’s social media post, who may not understand the importance of fact checking, sourcing, or the power and viral potential of a Tweet. [3] But what impact does fake news have on a society that believes stories that appear in their social media feeds? It remains to be seen if fake news sources can be held liable for spreading false information, but a report from the Washingtonian says there may be potential legal options for Comet Ping Pong. [4]
And what will likely happen to the accused gunman Edgar Maddison Welch in the case? I asked criminal defense lawyer Darren Kavinoky, the Founding Attorney of 1.800.NoCuffs to weigh in on the Welch’s situation.

Mental Health

“This is a case that screams ‘mental health issues,’” Kavinoky says. “Sadly, in the adult criminal justice system, where the focus is on punishment (rather than rehabilitation), and the few resources are already stretched perilously thin, the likelihood of this clearly troubled person receiving adequate treatment is slim. This focus on the symptoms, rather than the underlying causes for this highly dangerous behavior, is surely contributing to the recidivism rate that is so outrageous. It’s estimated that more than two-thirds of those who go to prison are returned to custody, and until we are willing to admit we’ve been doing it wrong, it’s analogous to rearranging deck chairs on a ship called the Titanic. You can feng shui those chairs all you like, but until and unless you deal with the iceberg problem, the ship is going down.”
Kavinoky adds, “It’s also noteworthy that there was no attempt to secure pretrial release. Detention or bail hearings are unusual in the criminal justice system, in that they are the one place that the criminal defendant does not enjoy the presumption of innocence. Instead, when considering bail, the judge presumes the defendant is guilty of the offense, and fixes bail in an amount necessary to secure their appearance, keeping in mind two key issues: flight risk and danger to the community. Here, the criminal defense lawyer didn’t even raise the issue. That is likely a wise tactical move at this point, and may foreshadow a defense tied to the defendant’s mental health (or lack thereof).
1. Kate Samuelson. December 5, 2016. Time. “What to Know About Pizzagate, the Fake News Story With Real Consequences.” Retrieved via http://time.com/4590255/pizzagate-fake-news-what-to-know/.
2. Ben Nuckols. December 16, 2016. AP/ABC7. “Accused Pizzagate gunman in Comet Ping Pong pleads not guilty.” Retrieved via http://wjla.com/news/local/accused-pizzagate-gunman-in-comet-ping-pong-case-to-appear-in-court.
3. Sapna Maheshwari. November 20, 2016. NYTimes.com. “How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study.” Retrieved via http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/business/media/how-fake-news-spreads.html?_r=0.
4. Benjamin Freed. December 9, 2016. Washingtonian. “Comet Ping Pong Has Legal Options, But They Won’t Make “Pizzagate” Go Away.” Retrieved via https://www.washingtonian.com/2016/12/09/comet-ping-pong-has-legal-options-but-they-wont-make-pizzagate-go-away-entirely/.
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