by Debra Opri – Attorney and Legal Analyst
Take note of the temper of the times. We are witnessing the consistent and methodical tactics of a new kind of juror in American jurisprudence; one that is both out of control and uncontrollable. And, once she enters our courtroom, the damage to the fair trial system will be far reaching and irreparable. Unlike the 12 jurors chosen by the system, this 13th juror is not chosen. This juror is not subject to the rules of the 12 who sit in judgment of the defendant. This juror that I speak of is the Media, a creation of all of us and our constitution, an entity that exists to feed the public, to always feed the insatiable appetite of the public. This 13th juror guides, motivates and influences the 12 jurors throughout the trial, even before the trial has begun, through television and the newspaper.
How does this 13th juror get into the courtroom? Merely by asserting the First Amendment rights of free speech to access the evidence prior to the trial, and to leak it, twist it, distort it, discuss it and comment on it with a point of view of its own choosing, and then to sell it to the public as a decisive opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused. This all happens before we ever get to the courtroom as it all happens in our living rooms on our television sets.
What is happening to Scott Peterson, Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Martha Stewart, should frighten us. Remember how the evidence came to us through the media and print on a regular basis prior to these trials ever starting, and then equally remember the opinions we formed of their guilt or innocence, before a jury of 12 was ever impaneled.
It is interesting to especially note the Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson cases which have yet to come to trial. We all have opinions of Kobe’s guilt due to the onslaught of press as to the accuser’s mental and sexual history. Michael Jackson apparently did not have any positive press considering the settlement of 10 years ago. But does anyone really know what happened with that and why there even was a settlement. It seems, it does not matter. According to the 13th juror, Michael Jackson settled the case so he must have had something to hide. He must have been guilty. The 13th juror, again, has ruled upon the guilt and innocence of the accused, prior to entering a courtroom.
The Scott Peterson case is sitting in the wings, waiting for a judge to decide once again to a change in venue. This time, maybe on to Los Angeles, where, as Mark Geragos argues, Mr. Peterson has the best chance of getting a fair trial. It seems, Mr. Geragos believes trial publicity was less in Los Angeles that in Modesto or Redwood City. Apparently, once again, the 13th juror is an influence.
Unless something is done to keep the media from deliberating the case and the evidence and the credibility of the parties on television and in the press, before the trial ever starts, the 13th juror will only keep picking up steam, power, and credibility, until the first 12 jurors become merely a rubber stamp of what they learned and were told to believe by the 13th juror.
In these troubling times of the celebrity trial as the nation,s prime time entertainment, it is time to take the power of deliberation and determination of a person’s guilt or innocence away from the lynch mob mentality of the sensationalizing media. It is time to eliminate the ability of the media to access the evidence and to use it to their advantage, otherwise a person will be deprived of their right to a fair trial. It is time to remind the media that they are there to report the news, not make it.
While we know that there can be no fair trial if the 13th juror is allowed to begin the deliberation process prior to trial, manipulate evidence to keep the audience enthralled, we must remember that the jury pool is still only comprised of 12 jurors.