The Impact Of Media On Capital Cases
There’s little argument as to the influence of the media on modern society. Television, radio, and other digital forms of media share all kinds of information, from the latest score in a ball game to the most current issues in Washington D.C. and around the world. So it’s no surprise that the media has the potential to affect attitudes and beliefs. This can be troublesome when media coverage relates to criminal cases before the court, because the criminal justice system relies on the impartiality of jurors when deciding a case. What a juror may have heard about a case may influence how they feel about a defendant. Beyond that, courtroom cameras may affect the way witnesses or jurors behave. It all becomes a serious issue as defendants face down serious penalties, particularly in capital cases.
High profile cases can be especially challenging when it comes to finding jurors who can look beyond biases they may have due to media coverage they’ve encountered. Impartiality is examined during voir dire, which is the selection process, as both the prosecution and the defense attorneys question members of the jury pool. Some of that questioning may relate to their exposure to various media reports related to the case. That’s because, even when people may not realize it, media can prejudice them. If a juror does believe that they cannot act with impartiality, or that they cannot follow the instructions issued by the judge, they may be eliminated by either side for cause.
Because capital cases frequently are heavily covered in the media, and because they generally are emotionally charged, seating a jury can be even more difficult. Jurors in these cases must be “death qualified.” In other words, they must be able to weigh the evidence presented –including mitigating and aggravating evidence– and genuinely consider sentences like life in prison and/or execution. This can be difficult for anyone, especially if media has had a strong impact on one’s view of the case before it gets to trial. Although the voir dire questioning may excuse potential jurors, ultimately death-qualified jurors are more likely to watch news on a daily basis and to lean toward the prosecution, according to research.
Judges are people too and are equally susceptible to the media they consume. One study concluded that elected judges are vulnerable to thoughts of the public views of crime, and when cases are widely reported, it leads to more punitive sentencing.
The Defense You Deserve
If you are facing charges in a high-profile case, particularly a capital case, you need an aggressive defense that takes into consideration the impact of media. At Lobo Law, our experienced Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers are prepared to mount a defense on all fronts. To discuss, schedule a confidential consultation in our Las Vegas office today.