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When the News Media Goes Beyond Just Reporting on Crime

tvIt used to be that the news media was a mirror of the events of the day.  A newsworthy event would occur and the media would investigate and report the facts.  Today however the news media goes far beyond telling us the who, what, where, when, and why of a particular story.  Instead, news outlets, pundits and gossip magazines alike report the news in such a way that public opinion and often public policy is shaped.  Nowhere is this more prevalent and, frankly, more dangerous than in reporting on the criminal justice system.

Let’s be honest, public knowledge of crime and justice and the systems that monitor such is largely acquired through the media and coverage of specific “media cases.”  While most criminal cases get no press coverage, cases like the O.J. Simpson trial and, more recently, the Trayvon Martin case most certainly influence the public’s opinion of crime rates, punitive policies and policing tactics.  In today’s age the “News” is more than a nightly network anchor reporting on a big story.  Instead, there are entire channels, on both sides of the political and social “aisle,” doing their own versions of reporting the “facts” of a particular case or social issue.  Consciously to some and unconsciously to most, these outlets are shaping public opinion and influencing those in positions of power.

In the criminal justice world, this is unfortunately true when it comes to prosecuting certain cases and handing down certain sentences.  For example, the Trayvon Martin case spurred a national debate on gun control.  As such, the case and the bigger societal issues of gun control and deadly force were covered extensively by both conservative and liberal media outlets.  Locally, these types of cases happen often; a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) case where a child is killed by a drunk driver or a Domestic Violence case where one spouse kills another after the police have been to their residence multiple times before the homicide.  Cases like these are reported by the news media, debated by the pundits, and ultimately play a role in decisions and policy regarding future drunk driving or Domestic Violence matters.

Recently CMG had a client where the client’s alleged actions were illegal but no one was hurt as a result of those alleged actions.  Soon after the case began a different individual was arrested and charged with similar conduct that resulted in the serious injury of another person.   This subsequent case received a lot of press coverage and began to be debated by local and national news media and pundits.  Once the debate became public it was obvious that the opinion of both the prosecutor and the Judge towards our client changed significantly.  Suddenly the public was paying attention to these types of allegations and the potential of being on the wrong side of a media storm, consciously or unconsciously, changed the entire playing field of our case.

These pressures, while indirect, are real.  And it’s not only in Driving While Intoxicated or Domestic Violence cases, but in a wide variety of criminal offenses as well.  Judges, prosecutors and jurors will react, consciously or unconsciously, to a media case that resembles a matter they are prosecuting or presiding over.  This, while it may be human nature to do so, is often to the detriment of a client.  A good criminal defense attorney will recognize this phenomenon and work diligently to distinguish the client and the client’s alleged actions from what is being covered in the press.

Public debate is a sign of a healthy democracy.  It is often the process by which positive changes in our society are made.  That being said, when you are charged with a crime that resembles something in the press, you and your lawyer need to defend against “contamination by association” based on superficial similarities alone.   If you or a loved one is charged with Driving While Intoxicated, Domestic Violence, or any other crime, feel free to contact us at 516-294-0300.  We are available 24/7 for any legal emergencies.

 

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