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Copyright (c) Trustees of Boston University 1996.
Boston University Law Review

NOTE: PUNISHING THE PRESS: USING CONTEMPT OF COURT TO SECURE THE RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL

June, 1996

76 B.U.L. Rev. 537

Author

Stephen J. Krause

Excerpt





Many sensational cases, such as the trials of Oliver North, 1 Marion Barry, 2 Leona Helmsley, 3 and Pamela Smart, 4 just to name a few, have forced trial courts to confront the impact of "saturation coverage" on a defendant's ability to obtain a fair trial. The upcoming "Unabomber" trial of Theodore Kaczynski promises similar coverage. The O.J. Simpson case 5 presented this same issue on an even larger scale. From the moment police discovered Simpson's ex-wife murdered, media coverage of the arrest and trial of the former football star saturated the nation. Not only did popular magazines constantly reveal new "details" questioning Simpson's innocence, 6 but television shows such as Hard Copy rarely allowed a week to pass without interviewing distraught family members or uncovering new and seamy "facts" about the case. 7 The New York Times printed potentially highly prejudicial allegations that Simpson had abused his ex-wife. 8 National newscasts probed into Simpson's private life, revealing details about his marriage and his troubled relationship with his children. 9 Entire books were published about the story, months before the jury was ever impanelled. 10

Although the trial resulted in an acquittal, 11 the Simpson case vividly illustrates the ways in which pretrial publicity of high-profile cases can endanger an accused person's right to a fair and impartial trial. 12 Taking advantage of its First Amendment protections, the media often publish information that would be inadmissible at trial 13 and that can bias potential jurors. Such prejudicial information ...
 
 
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