Media and Their Role with Pre-trial Criminals

The media should not be allowed to publicize the past criminal records of suspects if the previous crimes are unrelated to the new criminal charges.  First, publicizing this information could make it difficult to secure an impartial jury.  In all criminal cases it is imperative that members of the jury are not biased against the defendant upon the start of the trial.  The media is a powerful entity with great influence on public opinion.  Throughout history the media has convicted citizens before ever going to trail. To pretend that the media does not have such power is to deny the reality of life in America.    Advertising is a billion dollar industry in America because it works.  When the media ‘advertises’ criminal cases, society pays attention.  We are influenced and we change our perspectives.  When the media publicizes the criminal backgrounds of suspects, members of society form opinions about the guilt or innocence of the accused.  What happens when these members of society end up on the jury of a suspect who they believe is guilty?  I believe that it then becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the suspect to receive a fair trial.

When we are prejudiced against someone, it is difficult to change our viewpoints.  This is human nature.  Throughout the history of our legal system, innocent men have been convicted of rape or some other hideous crime, and received the death penalty, even when the evidence was insufficient.  Had it not been for DNA testing in recent years, this problem would still exist. Why were they convicted when there was a lack of evidence?  The answer is simple.  The jury was biased because the media continuously publicized the criminal backgrounds of these suspects.  It then became impossible for the jury to separate the past behaviors of the suspects from the present cases even when the previous criminal charges were unrelated. All criminal defendants in this country have a right to a fair trial and we must place limits on what the media releases to insure they receive one.  If the past crimes of a suspect are completely irrelevant to the new case they should not be publicized.

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On the other hand, if a suspect is about to be tried for a crime and his previous criminal records indicate a pattern of committing the same crime throughout his life, then this information should be shared with the public.  It is fair for the prosecution to be able to demonstrate a pattern of a repeated crime.  For example, if a man is accused of child molestation and he was previously convicted on the same charges, this information is necessary in the new proceedings, and should be discussed and examined along with the new evidence.

In conclusion, the media should be careful in its coverage of pre-trial criminals.  Coverage must be relevant to the case and not interfere with the fairness of trials, or the final outcomes.

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