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History Of The Media And The Courts

Balanced against the media's role to report news of a criminal trial is the right of an accused citizen to a fair trial with Members of the media gather outside, awaiting the verdict in the O.J. Simpson civil trial in 1997. Media coverage of court proceedings can bring concerns about what jurors or potential jurors see or hear outside the courtroom. (AP/Wide World Photos) an impartial (open to all evidence presented) jury, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The amendment reads, in part, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed."

With media coverage of court proceedings comes natural and well-founded concerns among defense attorneys and civil rights advocates about what jurors or potential jurors see or hear outside the courtroom. Irresponsible reporting can prejudice (change people's perception or opinions before all the facts are presented) a jury and deny a defendant one of the most basic rights accorded to all U.S. citizens.

Perhaps the first high-profile case in U.S. history involved the trial of Vice President Aaron Burr (1756–1836). Burr shot Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), a former secretary of the treasury, to death in an 1804 duel in Weehawken, New Jersey. Although Burr was indicted for murder in New York, he was never prosecuted and fled the country. During the indictment proceedings, however, Justice John Marshall (1755–1835) commented on the considerable media attention the case had received.

Justice Marshall issued a ruling regarding the potential problems so much publicity could cause a jury, declaring that jurors were impartial only if they were free from the influence of the media outside the courtroom. Marshall stated that the decision of a jury must be rendered solely on the facts and evidence presented inside the court of law. This principle, of course, is easier stated than practiced.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawMedia - History Of The Media And The Courts, Tried In The Media, The Crime Of The Century