Over the past 10 years or so there has been a rise in high profile criminal cases and a frenzy of media attention surrounding them. At issue is a defendant’s right to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment vs. the freedom of the press to report information to the public under the First Amendment, and the public’s demand to be informed. With technology, social media and the Internet, it is getting more and more difficult to protect a high profile criminal defendant’s rights to a fair trial and presumption that the defendant is innocent until found guilty.
Protections and Challenges to Ensure a Fair Trial
If you are a defendant in a high profile case, you have certain Constitutional rights including the following:
Finding impartial juries that have not been exposed to some form of media coverage in high profile cases is challenging for defense attorneys and their clients. The courts will issue gag orders, sequester jurors issue jury instructions, but many argue that these measures are no longer as effective as they used to be because of technology. Frequently, defense attorneys will request change of venues or postponements just for this reason.
A good criminal defense attorney understands when it is important for a client to be quiet and when it is important to use the media when it is in a client’s best interests. In civil trials, courts may go so far as to keep the plaintiff’s name anonymous, but in high profile criminal cases, defendants don’t have the same option. Some legal scholars have proposed that the rules be changed so that defendants in high profile cases could take advantage of anonymity to ensure a fair trial. While others argue that there are enough protections under the current laws with gag orders, voir dire (questioning and determination of suitability potential jurors), sequester, jury instructions, change of venue and postponement of trials until the media frenzy dies down and turns its attention to a new issue. Some courts have even gone so far as to prevent television media coverage of their high profile trials.
High Profile Criminal Defendants Found Innocent
However, it should be pointed out that many defendants in high profile criminal cases have been found innocent such as O. J. Simpson murder case, Robert Blake, George Zimmerman and Casey Anthony despite their notoriety reflecting that it is possible to receive a fair trial and a strong defense under our criminal justice system.