Bias against a defendant's image or reputation may play a serious role in the "court of public opinion," but real criminal courts require more than just a gut reaction from a jury for a person to be convicted. Real criminal courts require actual evidence. This contrast between public image and the facts may be an issue for a Detroit-area motorcycle club whose members have been convicted of a range of crimes over the years.

Now more than a dozen people associated with the club -- known as the Devils Disciples -- are facing federal charges in Detroit. The allegations include drug trafficking, murder and illegal gambling. In the last ten years, federal prosecutors have ended up dropping other charges against members of the club. This time some of the charges relate to a federal racketeering law.

Though federal prosecutors claim they have a "staggering amount of evidence" to support the allegations, it remains to be seen whether that statement is functional beyond swaying public opinion.

Founded in California, the Devils Disciples are now based in Macomb County. They have chapters in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Port Huron and Bay City. The president of the group hails from Mt. Clemens.

Readers in Michigan may want to follow the progress of this case with an inquiring view of it, not simply with an assumption that the defendants are guilty. Prosecutors tend to throw a wide variety of charges at suspects in federal cases, the hope being that at least some of the charges stick. But an allegation is simply that -- an allegation -- and the image and reputation of the Devils Disciples may not match up with the facts in every case.

Source: Michigan Radio, "Michigan motorcycle club faces a long federal indictment," Steve Carmody, July 20, 2012