How Media in the Courtroom Affects the Verdict
What is the common element of the trials for O. J. Simpson, Sam Sheppard, and the Menendez brothers? All these cases were surrounded by media frenzy. The public is barraged with all types of information once it is released. What happened to innocent until proven guilty? With so many media influences from print to cameras can one truly assume an unbiased position? Many factors can play a role in the outcome of a trial. A person’s fame, fortune, or lack of is sometimes an element.
In 2007 Collins said: The debate over whether or not to televise courtroom proceedings has broader implications than simply the safety of witnesses and the right of the media to cover criminal trials of interest to the public. Instead, the issue centers squarely on the capacity of a televised courtroom to provide an environment in which the truth can emerge while protecting the due-process rights of the accused.
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While media in the courtroom can affect the verdict, there is also an affect on the jurors, attorneys, judges, victims, and witnesses.
Equally important is the affect of media in the courtroom on the judges. Some believe that the cameras will not inhibit the judges’ ability while others believe differently. In 1994 Lepofsky stated: There is a sound basis for being concerned about the potential impact of cameras in the courtroom on judges. At the very least, cameras in the courtroom will place significant added burden on the judge. The judge will have to police the cameras, to ensure compliance with all rules, and try to prevent any prejudicial camera-induced impact. (p. 52) It is reasonable to assume that the cameras will have a small affect on some of the judges’ demeanor since the judge has to keep watch of all that is going on in the courtroom. Media influence can sometimes be intimidating to the average person. Judges want to be viewed as biased in all cases. They have to be aware at all times of the image they portray. On occasion politics do play a part in decisions that are made by some judges. Additionally the affect of cameras in the courtroom on jurors must be considered. The jurors could have varied reactions to the media spotlight.
Some may be subdued or intimated, while others may welcome the media hype. The cameras could be a major distraction to some of the jurors or, on the other hand, some could see the camera as their 15 minutes of fame. According to, the Criminal justice Section of the New York Bar Association a 1991 study showed the following: 19% of the jurors surveyed thought that the fairness of trials would be negatively affected with media in the courtroom. The presence of cameras made 28% of juror respondents think the proceeding was more important. (p. 8) Furthermore jurors may feel the camera will give them more exposure. There is the possibility of backlash from family, friends, or others based on the outcome of the verdict. Greene (1991, p. 439) noted that many times what the media represents “influences juror’s expectations and decisions. ” And as Greene and Loftus (1984) noted, even unrelated publicity can influence trial verdicts. Depending on the circumstances, some jurors’ may be affected by the cameras in the courtroom. Moreover is the affect of media in the courtroom on attorneys’. There duty is to prove someone’s guilt or innocence.
The cameras could be a distraction to some attorneys’. The diversion of the cameras may affect the ability of the attorneys to present their case effectively. Michael Sherman, a Stanford criminal defense lawyer, “disputed claims that cameras encourage lawyers to showboat. Having done a zillion hours of commentary on Court TV, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to see people’s reactions. And overall, my opinion is that it raises people’s performance”. It is safe to say that camera in the courtroom can or cannot have an influence on an attorney’s behavior.
Additionally, the affect of media in the courtroom on the witnesses has to be considered. In 1994 Lepofsky stated: Witnesses and parties can personally have a great deal at stake in the proceedings. For the accused, their very liberty can be on the line. For the plaintiffs and victims, much needed personal vindication can be at stake. For many parties their livelihood and reputation can hang in the balance. For all parties and witnesses, their personal credibility is put in question as soon as they enter the witness box.
In cross-examination, their honesty, their morality and their integrity can be savagely challenged by skilled professional counsel who are paid and trained to tear them apart through the ordinary adversary system. (p. 343) Their ability to be an effective witness is questioned. Some witnesses welcome the intrusion of the camera. Some may find the camera threatening because of the added exposure. Witnesses take an oath to tell the truth. It is the duty of the judge and jury to observe and listen to evaluate the testimony of the witness. Witnesses may be focused more on the camera than on their testimony.
Collins said that “the manner in which we observe something can affect what we wish to observe”. As told to Lassister (1995) in a phone interview with Steve Bell, Executive Officer of Court TV: A trial is a story and that is part of the fascination. It’s about people who are in peril. Someone in that courtroom is either in danger of losing his or her life, or losing a lot of money. And they are trying to fight off that peril. And there is a result. Do they win? Or do they lose? A trial when televised live, he says, is also a cliffhanger. Nobody knows the end until the end, not the judges, not the viewers, not the lawyers, not the defendants. p. 30) There are certain guidelines instituted to keep the sanctity of the proceeding. Certain procedures have to be followed by the media in the courtroom to maintain the integrity of the trial. “Cameras can insight fear, magnify anxiety, or inflate the insatiable ego of a renowned expert, all of which may contaminate what otherwise should be clear and unadulterated testimony” (Collins, 2007, p. 3).