By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.
Check the trending news stories at any moment these days and it becomes clear that Aaron Hernandez’s legal troubles have the makings for the next big courtroom drama. This country loves its courtroom dramas (see OJ, Casey Anthony, Lindsay Lohan, MJ, Zimmermania, etc.). The best candidates have intrigue and controversy. Aaron Hernandez presents both of those. The media coverage has been extensive and has left no potential detail unreported. Unfortunately for Hernandez, this creates significant hurdles to receiving a fair trial.
A wealth of research over the last few decades has shown that pre-trial publicity can create significant bias in a jury pool. I have seen (and worked on) cases where the media reported confessions that never occurred, key evidence that did not exist, and analysis designed to create strong impressions about the case. Maybe it’s irresponsible journalism. Maybe it’s just recognition that the media faces an impossible task of covering complex, detailed issues in the courtroom that simply cannot be encapsulated in a column or a three-minute nightly news segment. Regardless of the reason, the result is often a trial venue where significant portions of the jury have already pre-judged the case, making it extraordinarily difficult for someone like Hernandez to receive a fair trial. Continue reading