Book Summary: Chapter 9

“This chapter addresses the fundamental tension between the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and of the press, and the Sixth Amendment right of fair and open public trials. It examines the effects of press coverage of criminal investigations and trials on the ability of society to successfully and fairly prosecute criminals. As such, it offers another illustration of the Court’s continuing struggle to balance competing rights” – Chapter Overview

The largest questions some might have for this might be how big of a deal are the contradictions between each of these amendment rights. Sometimes in our legal system we only allow a certain amount of people to listen in to court hearings. We have a right to know things, but when does it come to it’s end? When does a “right” actually end?

“Media coverage of crime often includes details about the crime scene, evidence, arrests, the character and criminal history of the defendant, and the charges. Some of the information presented in the news may be incorrect or may not be admissible in court. Although the media have a First Amendment right to publish this information, such pretrial publicity may undermine the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. A fair trial requires impartial jurors and an impartial judge. Media exposure may cause potential jurors to form fixed ideas about the guilt of the defendant before a trial begins. While studies disagree on whether publicity harms juror deliberations and verdicts, courts struggle with the effect of media on court processes. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that judges must withdraw from proceedings when there is substantial likelihood of a risk of bias. State laws designed to protect the appearance of judicial impartiality by prohibiting judges from taking public stands on issues that may come before them in court are unconstitutional” – Chapter Overview

Before these laws were even in the books, how many cases have gone by where the journalist might have exploited a certain crime scene, evidence, arrests, criminal history, charges, etc. Some things may be not true and that can affect how someone is tried. This can also render a judgement until a further investigation is complete.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to a speedy and public trial before an impartial jury to be held in the district where the crime was committed. The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that the right to an open public trial belongs to the public as well as the defendant.

To protect these important components of justice, courts take care in composing juries and in protecting the court’s fair process from external influences, including media. The careful selection of jurors includes both the drawing of a fair cross section of the community and the detailed questioning of potential jurors through voir dire. Judges also use admonitions, instructions, and sequestration to encourage jurors to consider only the evidence presented in court in rendering a verdict. Judges use both civil and criminal contempt citations to force participants in the trial to comply with their orders. On occasion, judges will delay or relocate a trial to overcome impediments to fairness. These remedies are rare because they are expensive and interfere with the right to a speedy trial.


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