The weight of the American media in public opinion is undeniable. It has become so commonplace that society tends to mirror the images and ideas that are shared among popular media. Why assume that high profile court cases would be exempt from the general rule? The agencies reporting on the court cases are laced with obvious opinions of guilt or innocence. To reinforce these opinions, media outlets rely on reports from established lawyers or psychologists. The average viewer then accepts these opinions as fact, based on the slanted information that is provided.
To take a contemporary example, one can examine the Jodi Arias case. Although there is no legal outcome on the trial to date, Mrs. Arias has been heavily convicted in the court of public opinion. As her defense claims have developed, America has developed a fascination with the case that borders on obsessive. In response to this fascination, popular news channels have saturated their programming with coverage of the case. HLN provides all day coverage of the court case and supplements with coverage during Nancy Grace Mysteries and Dr. Drew on Call. The most recent trend in the Jodi Arias case is After Dark, also on HLN.
While there are sources available to the general population to receive coverage of the case, the convenient option is to watch HLN’s coverage of the trial. As the trial proceeds, HLN’s commentators openly voice their opinions of the happenings in court. Every defense claim, prosecution claim, and judge’s decision is dissected for viewers. Accusation and speculation become the norm, and as America decides their own opinions on the case, they must consider not only their own opinions but also those of the media outlet presenting the case.
The outcome is obviously a general population who favors the opinions of the media experts, rather than the defendant who has a clear history of providing false information regarding the case. Perhaps it is human nature to rely on the opinions of trained professionals, rather than those of possible murderers but this behavior presents clear dangers for future defendants and the Criminal Justice system, in general.
No matter the outcome on this case, the media coverage of Jodi Arias has developed a very clear opinion of the defendant. Jodi Arias is presented as a cold, calculating, sexual predator and murderer; a black widow of sorts. While the evidence in the case certainly lends itself to this opinion, the fact remains that it is the job of the prosecutor to prove her guilt; the jurors in the case to decided her guilt; and the judge in the case to sentence her for it.
The system is specifically designed to examine a case and use the level of guilt to appropriate punishment for that crime. Deterrence theories specifically site public humiliation and social stigma as punishment for a convicted felon. If convicted, Mrs. Arias’ portrayal will be fair and right as per this standard of Criminal Justice. If not convicted, one might assume that Mrs. Arias has suffered an unfair treatment by the media that will be nearly impossible to reverse.
This opens up the defendant for unfavorable results but also the Criminal Justice system. The defendant, if not convicted, can pursue a civil case against the media outlets for defamation of character. Furthermore, as the case becomes more outlandish and viewership increases, there is a chance of backlash against the court. As in the Casey Anthony trial, a decision that does not coincide with the opinion of the media outlets providing coverage can provide a feeling of unfairness among the general population which can weaken the trust in our Criminal Justice system and hinder its effectiveness.