Criminal Media

By Douglas Corleone

A major theme in my novel One Man’s Paradise is how the media affects the American system of justice. Is it possible for a defendant to get a fair trial when every aspect of the case is discussed ad nauseam prior to the trial on the three major national cable news channels? It seems that in the age of round-the-clock news, voyeur journalism, and odious overbearing pundits, the freedom of the press has wholly usurped the right to due process.

Take the Casey Anthony case for example. If you followed this case at all during CNN’s prime time line-up, chances are you made a decision on Casey Anthony’s guilt or innocence prior to her trial. And chances are that decision was been based largely on the slanted views of former prosecutors who now hold themselves out as investigative journalists. Worse yet, you most likely formulated your opinion based on evidence that may not have been admissible at trial.

In a nation where jurors regularly cash in on colossal press cases through book deals and the like, is it possible that a fan of Nancy Grace may find her way onto the jury of a highly publicized crime? You bet. Potential jurors lie all the time to get out of jury duty. But what about those potential jurors that lie in order to make their way into the box?

It’s a frightening notion that defendants might be judged on evidence inadmissible in court. Because it means that information and physical evidence obtained by law enforcement through improper means may not be useless after all. Even if such evidence is excluded by the trial judge, it is certainly fair game in the court of public opinion. This has set a dangerous precedent.

And how are such cases selected by the national news media? Clearly producers and pundits select their cases on the totality of the circumstances. First, it seems, they look at the victim. Preferably female, preferably Caucasian, preferably well-educated (or currently studying), preferably young, and preferably attractive, particularly in the face. Then the networks consider the defendant. The case is a keeper if the defendant has a lot to lose. Again, it’s preferred that the perpetrator be Caucasian, that he or she have some connection to the victim, and that he or she look totally out of place shackled in an orange jumpsuit while walking through the courtroom.

Setting is also important. A tropical island, such as the one in One Man’s Paradise, is ideal. But really any affluent neighborhood or popular vacation destination will do. Cruise ship murders work well, too. Especially, if searchers are unsuccessful at finding the body.

Of course, I’m not defending criminals. That was my profession for several years as an attorney in New York City, and I’m glad to say I’m done with it. But the way the media handle certain cases is an issue that needs to be addressed and soon. It’s bad enough when these media vultures swoop down and exploit victims’ families for ratings. It’s worse when they convict defendants based on hearsay and tainted evidence months, or even years, before the actual trial.

This post was contributed by Douglas Corleone, a former New York City criminal defense attorney; he now resides in the Hawaiian Islands where he writes contemporary crime fiction. His first international thriller Good As Gone will be released on August 20, 2013. You can find out more about this author and his books by visiting his website, following him on Twitter or joining him on Facebook.

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