Lessons from the Netflix Series: Trial by Media

It’s More Than Just a Show

Trial by Media is a Netflix original series featuring some of the most sensationalized, dramatic court trials of all time. Released on May 11th, this true crime docuseries highlights famous criminal cases spanning various offenses and how the media may have impacted their jury verdicts. The series features criminal cases involving the following people:

  • The Jenny Jones Show and Scott Amedure
  • Bernhard Goetz and four New York City victims
  • Four police officers and Amadou Diallo
  • Big Dan’s bar and a local woman
  • Richard Scrushy and the American people
  • Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the American people

We’ve all seen some captivating trials on TV over the past decades: OJ Simpson, Ted Bundy, George Zimmerman, Casey Anthony, and Aaron Hernandez are some of the most notorious defendants we’ve seen thus far. However, we must examine two key elements of these infamous criminal trials:

  1. Where do we get our information about these cases?
  2. How does this source of information impact verdicts?

As entertaining as these cases are, we must not forget that viewers of televised trials are essentially watching the destruction or protection of defendants’ freedoms in real-time. That’s a lot of eyes and a lot of pressure on both sides of the courtroom. Let’s take a look at how the media plays a role in these trials.

Where Do We Get Our Information About These Cases?

It sounds pretty self-explanatory, but most people consume information from the media. According to the Cornell University Media Studies department, “Media are the technological means through which societies are reflected, tested, challenged, and transformed.” This includes major mass communication outlets such as CNN, ABC, FOX, CBS, PBS, NBC, etc. The list could go on.

These sources of information may either be biased or attempt to be unbiased, but either way, people are reading, watching, and listening to everything the media produces. When popular criminal cases are brought to light, the media has the power to influence the outcome of the jury verdict.

How Does This Source of Information Impact Verdicts?

Juries consist of 12 normal people, like you, who are looking to make findings of fact. Essentially, jurors are supposed to listen to arguments from the prosecution and defense to decide whether the defendant is guilty and, if so, what they are guilty of.

Jurors are normal Americans who are randomly assigned jury service for a specific case. They consume news, discuss it with their friends and families and make judgments on what is being reported every day, just like we do. Therefore, when the media reports skewed or biased news on criminal cases, people are left to form their opinions based on what the media is feeding them. As such, jurors may subconsciously form their verdicts before even going to trial. Even if jurors do everything possible to avoid engaging with news and discussions about criminal cases, it’s virtually impossible, nonetheless.

Trial by jury? More like, trial by media.

Key Takeaways

The ultimate goal of this Netflix original series is to shed light on the influence that the media has on jurors. It feeds news, opinions and sensationalized content to jurors before they even get a chance to listen to both sides of the story in court. It’s important to recognize that although the media is protected by the First Amendment, that doesn’t mean it can’t damage a defendant’s right to an impartial trial, which is protected by the Sixth Amendment.

White Law PLLC has received national media recognition for the cases we’ve handled, and we understand the immense impact (good or bad) that the media has on criminal case verdicts. It’s important to acknowledge that, now more than ever, jury verdicts are heavily swayed by the media.

We are available for calls 24/7 at (517) 316-1195. If you are facing a criminal charge and need a well-rounded and highly regarded team to defend you, contact us for a free consultation!