A Pixilated View of the Law: Televised Trials
Posted by Pamela S. on Monday, July 9th, 2012
There is a kind of bloodlust to watching brilliant legal minds battle it out in the courtroom. Many of us secretly take delight in watching either the prosecution or defense rip apart the testimony of a witness. That is one reason why legal dramas are such a success on television. For most people, reality is far more compelling. We can’t all sit in a courtroom and watch that interplay, but sometimes we can sit at home and let the court proceedings come to us.
It’s just my opinion, but I think that there is great value in televising court proceedings. We may not be able to attend trials, but most of us have TV. Televising the proceedings allows for public scrutiny, and watching the legal process is an education.
There is also a dark side. All participants, especially witnesses, can be affected by cameras in the courtroom. It may make some people more anxious or cause them to grandstand or “act” for the camera.
The greatest impact is on the public at home. We have started to view real life court drama as entertainment. We sit at home with our beer and potato chips , and we play judge and jury. When I say we, I also mean me. I am just as guilty. I love to watch lawyers spar. Nothing gets me more excited than watching people who have the skill and intellect wield that power. But there is a cost. We depreciate that power and dishonor the sacredness of the law when we view it as entertainment.
The one year anniversary of the Casey Anthony trial last week brought this to my mind. I’m not going to tell you what I think happened, but a child is dead and that is often forgotten in the hoopla that surrounded the trial.
The trials that remain foremost in our mind are the ones that were televised. I still remember the Menendez Brothers trial. O.J. Simpson is the most famous example. Look at the photograph above. It is an autographed still photograph of the trial. I found this photograph on a collectibles auction site. That is a good indicator of how we view these trials. A couple of people died! A still from the trial of the man accused of this crime has now become a collectible. O.J. walked. Did the cameras affect the outcome? I’m sure all eyes will be glued to the TV when George Zimmerman goes on trial.
I recently wrote about Canadian accused murderer Luka Magnotta. He allegedly killed a man, desecrated and chopped up his body, mailed body parts to government offices, and posted a video of the killing online. This is a person who craves attention. He was captured in Germany because he was looking up news stories on his crime in an Internet Café. He has since been extradited to Canada and asked for a jury trial. This narcissistic psychopath would relish a televised trial, but cameras are not allowed in Canadian courtrooms. That is where the courtroom sketch comes in. It may be a dying art, but a good courtroom artist can provide us with a peek into this world when cameras are not allowed.
Last week, in another televised trial, Michael Marin, convicted of arson for torching his Phoenix, Arizona mansion, appeared to ingest something after the guilty verdict was read. He dropped dead shortly after. He is believed to have taken some kind of poison. Marin had been a successful financier and adventurer but made some careless investments, including the mansion that he could no longer afford. Marin may have been an arsonist, but he was also a father and a grandfather.
Whether he burned his own house for the insurance money or not, is watching him appear to commit suicide going to enrich our lives? No, but I still watched, because I saw it on the news. I will continue to watch televised trials, but as I do, I will try to conduct myself with the solemnity of someone actually sitting in the courtroom. I will cherish the privilege to observe the law in action and consider that whether innocent or guilty, the goal is justice for victims and their families, and fairness for the accused.
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