Pretrial Publicity

Pretrial Publicity in the United States

Information about a particular case disseminated through the media. The basic problem with pretrial publicity in criminal cases is that it may impair a defendant’s right to an impartial jury. If publicity is pervasive enough, it may lead citizens toward at least tentative judgments about guilt or innocence. In such cases, the publicity is said to be prejudicial. Given the current reach of the media, especially the broadcast media, virtually an entire community can be influenced by information untested by accepted rules of procedure and evidence. The famous case involving Dr. Sam Sheppard portrays prejudicial consequences at their worst.

See Also

Voir Dire (Criminal Process).

Analysis and Relevance

Containing prejudicial publicity is difficult because the media is protected from most restrictions by the First Amendment. Trial judges, for example, cannot restrain the media from reporting information about a crime or a defendant except under the most extreme circumstances. Nonetheless, there are other measures that can be taken to ensure the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Trials may be delayed until publicity has subsided, or the venue (location) of a trial may be changed to a place where prospective jurors have not been exposed to media coverage of the case. Key to determining if either of these options is necessary is the voir dire process. If impartial jurors cannot be found, delay or change of venue may be ordered. The Supreme Court has ruled in Murphy v. Florida (421 U.S. 794: 1975) that prospective jurors need not be “totally ignorant” of a case. They need only be able to “reach a verdict based on the evidence presented in the court.” Once ajury is selected, it can usually be insulated from prejudicial publicity effectively, although this, too, may be difficult with a lengthy trial. The difficulty in restricting media conduct has prompted the industry itself to fashion principles of conduct for criminal case coverage.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Pretrial Publicity from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Pretrial Publicity: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Pretrial Publicity. This part provides references, in relation to Pretrial Publicity, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Pretrial Publicity by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Pretrial Publicity and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Pretrial Publicity or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Pretrial Publicity and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Pretrial Publicity. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Pretrial Publicity should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Pretrial Publicity when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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