COMMENTARY | Being an honest juror may be tougher today than ever before. With the Internet, 24-hour news coverage, and social media, potential jurors are always inundated with digital data about crimes and suspects. We hear the news, watch commentators debate, and read everyone’s comments on social media and on online news articles. In highly publicized cases jury boxes are full of men and women who had been inundated with a questionable mixture of fact, opinion, and pop culture zeal. In 2013 and beyond, is a fair trial even possible once a media circus gets swinging? Changing venues does little since every county in America has high-speed Internet and satellite TV/radio/what-have-you.
In the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial, similar to the Casey Anthony trial before it, a media circus unquestionably exists, and it’s a full-blown, three-ring circus. News networks have already been sued for allegedly mis-representing and maliciously editing recordings. Other networks have been lambasted for allegedly preferring bias-inducing photographs of either the defendant or victim (or both). Networks have also been criticized for supposedly digging up dirt on defendant and victim, regardless of whether or not it related to the tragic shooting in February 2012. Analysts could spend a lifetime debating media bias in the Trayvon Martin shooting.
Worries about fairness come to a head with news that a potential juror in the case apparently lied about being unbiased, reports ABC News. Juror E7 told the court he was completely unbiased about the case and had not really followed the news about it. He also told the court he had abstained from commenting on the case on social media…but apparently some postings on Coffee Party Progressives suggested otherwise. When asked by the judge whether or not those postings were his, juror E7 admitted they were. In this digital media age, how many biased postings on social media are discovered by attorneys before and during jury selection? Worse, how many are not?
Citizens lying about being unbiased in order to become jurors unquestionably violates one’s right to a fair trial. How much responsibility in tainting citizens’ opinions, and therefore jurors’ opinions, should be attributed to biased media coverage? Should courts be much faster to impose gag orders on reporting about crimes, suspects, and victims? I believe there should be legislation allowing quick reining-in of these three-ring media circuses that amplify and sow bias among potential jurors.