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The Issue Of Pretrial Publicity Essay

2337 words - 10 pages

The issue of pretrial publicity is a maze of overlapping attentions and interwoven interests. Lawyers decry pretrial publicity while simultaneously raising their own career stock and hourly fee by accumulating more if it. The media both perpetrate and comment on the frenzy -- newspapers and television stations generate the publicity in the first place and then actively comment on the likely effect that the coverage will have on the trial. When a high profile case is brought to trial, many media outlets report not only on the details of the trial, but also details about the persons involved, in particular the defendant. Much of the information reported regarding the case is released before the trial starts. Furthermore, media outlets may not only report facts, but also present the information in a way that projects the culpability of the defendant. By allowing pretrial publicity of court cases, potential jurors are given information that could sway their opinion of the defendant even before the trial begins, and how they interpret the evidence given during the trial. The right of a criminal defendant to receive a fair trial is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The right of the press, print and electronic media, to publish information about the defendant and the alleged criminal acts is guaranteed by the First Amendment. These two constitutional safeguards come into conflict when pretrial publicity threatens to deprive the defendant of an impartial jury. However, there is a compromise between these two Constitutional rights, which would allow for the selection of an impartial jury and allow the media to report on the details of the case. The media should only be able to report information once the trial has begun so that potential jurors are not given extra information that could influence their opinion of the defendant. Because of the evidence shown in previous court cases influenced by pretrial publicity and empirical studies investigating the effects of pretrial publicity, publicity should not
be made about the case before the case but postponed until after to mediate the effects of pretrial publicity.
Pretrial publicity has been address by the U.S. Supreme Court since the 1960s. In the revolutionary case of Irwin v. Dowd, the defendant, Leslie Irvin, was convicted of committing six murders in a rural area of Indiana. The crimes generated extensive media coverage, in both television and print. Irvin argued that the pretrial publicity prevented him from receiving a fair trial by an impartial jury. The Court agreed, noting that eight of the twelve jurors who heard the case had decided that Irvin was guilty before the trial began. Despite these admissions, the trial judge had accepted as conclusive the jurors' statements that they would be able to render an impartial verdict. The Court held that the substantial publicity surrounding the case made the trial judge's determination of juror impartiality erroneous (Bruschke...

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