The law of the land that regulates American society is often expressed rhetorically. Articulated in more fundamental terms, our legal system encompasses:
1. International law
2. Constitutional and Administrative law
3. Criminal law
4. Contract law
5. Tort law
6. Property law
7. Equity and Trusts
Obviously, the practice of law is complex, requiring professionals with expertise in these respective avenues of law. I suppose that is the reason that this nation has so many attorneys. For the purposes of this article, we’ll confine ourselves to Criminal law: an area impacted of late by many changes and one that has fallen prey to public opinion.
The once honored tenets of “innocent until proven guilty” and “a jury of one’s peers” have been adulterated by the court of public opinion. The news media and programs like The Nancy Grace Show don’t simply report case histories; they invite audience participation. This approach has driven a wedge into our jury selection system.
When jurors are selected, they are charged with one simple, monumental task: evaluating the facts of the case to which they are assigned, to arrive at a decision of innocence or guilt for the defendant. But finding impartial jurors nowadays is like hunting for that needle in the haystack. How can anyone be impartial if the cases are being “tried” relentlessly on national television? One would have to live in a bubble to avoid all the media hype!
Like a swarm of mosquitoes with a juicy target, the media centers on high notoriety cases such as those involving O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony. The more controversial the case, the greater the audience and the higher the media ratings and the louder the clamor for live coverage.
Once the media is allowed into the courtroom, it’s a virtual Pandora’s Box. Legal proceedings that were once relatively private have become sideshows due to the cameras in the courtroom. As of this writing, it is still unlawful to record a telephone conversation without legal sanction. Why, then, do we allow cameras and cell phones into the courtrooms when highly sensitive cases such as OJ’s and Casey Anthony’s are being tried?
In both cases, the suspects were acquitted of the charges of heinous murders. This denouement led to a firestorm of public outrage against the acquitted parties, accompanied by death threats and the potential violence of lynch mobs. Can this type of action be equivalent to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded establishment?
Has investigative reporting interfered with our Criminal Justice system by preemption and the rush to form judgments? Professor Alan Dershowitz’s comments on this matter were most telling. In a recent interview, Dershowitz was asked if the judgment of Casey Anthony was correct. The Professor responded, “Legally, yes,”, thus implying that it was morally wrong. But, that’s how our legal system now works.
Is the Criminal Justice system broken and in need of reform? That is the question. In our oh so politically correct society, the issue of legal versus moral seems to be unjust. So, to correct our nomenclature, perhaps we should rename it The Legal Criminal Law System.