Pretrial Publicity and Its Influence
on Juror Decision Making
CHRISTINA A. STUDEBAKER
STEVEN D. PENROD
When a case is being tried, attention is focused on the facts of the case, the nature of the charges, and whether the facts meet the criteria necessary to find the defendant responsible for causing harm or wrongdoing. However, many things happen before the trial that can influence its outcome. These include the selection (or assignment) of attorneys, the selection of jurors, the determination of the trial venue, judicial decisions about what information will be admissible at trial, and the presentation of information about the case (i.e., pretrial publicity) to potential jurors via the local or national media. Although pretrial publicity (PTP) is not available for every case that goes to trial, it can present special challenges when it is present because—unlike other pretrial factors—most of what appears in the media is not under the control of the court or the defendant. Even in countries that utilize sub judice or statutory law to prevent the dissemination of prejudicial information before trial, PTP is not automatically prevented in every case. Furthermore, once a court has allowed PTP to be presented, it has or may wield little, if any, control over the nature and amount of PTP ultimately presented.
Various aspects of PTP increase its potential to influence juror decision making: (1) the timing of the presentation of PTP compared to the presentation of trial evidence, (2) the amount of PTP that appears, (3) the lack of any procedures to screen for information that would likely be judged inadmissible at trial, and (4) the lack of formal opportunities before trial to rebut information presented via the media (in contrast to cross-examination during trial).
In general, empirical research on PTP effects has shown prejudicial PTP to have broad effects. PTP influences evaluations of the defendant's likability, sympathy for the defendant, perceptions of the defendant as a typical crimi-