Free Press vs. Fair Trials: Examining Publicity's Role in Trial Outcomes

Free Press vs. Fair Trials: Examining Publicity's Role in Trial Outcomes

Free Press vs. Fair Trials: Examining Publicity's Role in Trial Outcomes

Free Press vs. Fair Trials: Examining Publicity's Role in Trial Outcomes

Excerpt

What qualifies a person to be a juror? We discussed this once over lunch. Jon suggested that a juror should be rational, impartial, intelligent, and capable of suspending judgment until all testimony and argument is presented at trial. Bill suggested that a juror should be of legal age, not insane, not personally related to the victim or defendant, and not obviously biased fororagainst the defendant.

It could be that an ideal juroris a combination of all those traits, but infact few people could meet all of those qualifications. In fact, shortly after we ate lunch, actress Winona Ryder was convicted by a jury that included her former employer, studio chief Jon Peters. Far be it from us to claim that Mr. Peters was not an ideal juror. It could be that our wished-for careers as rockand-roll stars might depend on the good judgment of people just like him. But would you, dear reader, want to be held in judgment for a criminal offense by your ex-boss?

The point of this book is that many things can cross a person's mind in the jury room, but that the odds of information provided solely from the mass media making the difference in a single juror's decision of guilt or innocence are very small. We also noted an irony in the very nomenclature of what is often called the free press versus fair trail debate: The adjectives describing each component give the false sense that the only important concern is for the press to be free and the trials to be fair. A free press is an unarguably laudable goal, but a major problem with the press is that it is not often fair. Fair trails are the cornerstone of justice, but if they are expensive rather than free they are available only to the wealthy. Switching the adjectives offered the dual benefits of providing valuable new insights into the processes involved and also giving us a title for the book. Thus, a productive way to address the free press and fair trial issue is to think of ways to make the press fair and the trials free as the logical counterpart of keeping the press free and the trials fair.

We found ourselves in agreement on these points, but we realized at lunch that we had strikingly different perspectives on the data and arguments pre-

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