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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 90028 Find in a Library
Title: Fair and Impartial Railroad - The Jury, the Media, and Political Trials
Journal: Journal of Criminal Justice  Volume:11  Issue:3  Dated:(1983)  Pages:241-263
Author(s): Anonymous
Date Published: 1983
Page Count: 23
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: The clash between social movements and political authority is often played out in the court rooms in criminal cases which are loosely described as 'political trials.' While prosecutors, judges, and defendants rarely agree as to the 'political' nature of a particular case, all parties usually regard the jury as the pivotal factor. The jury, of course is enshrined in Anglo-American legal theory as the final check against suppression of liberty by the state. Plea bargaining is out of the question when the very legitimacy of the state is challenged and when dissident defendants are determined to use the trial process as a means of political expression. The crucial question is whether the jury has in fact lived up to its Constitutional role.
Abstract: The article attempts to answer this question at two levels. First, the history of political trials in the United States is reviewed with the general finding that radicals have faced juries which were both grossly unrepresentative of the general population and typically hostile to the ideas, life styles, and social origins of the defendants. Second, the article considers in some detail the impact of media coverage on potential jurors on one particular recent political case, the 1977-1978 trial of accused 'guerrilla-bombers' Richard Picariello and Eduard Guilion in the Federal District Court of Southern Maine. The survey opinion data presented for this case strongly indicate that any chance of a fair trial for the defendants was compromised by effects of sustained hostile media coverage before the onset of the trial. Finally, the article considers available remedies in the form of either legislative reforms designed to ensure representative juries, or voir dire procedures aimed at eliminating biased jurors. A review of these remedies offers little hope that future political trials will be substantially fairer than in the past. Moreover, the direction of current criminal justice reforms, as in the proposed S-1722 Federal Criminal Code, promise to criminalize further important forms of political expression. The conclusion is not that jury trials should be avoided or minimized, since judges are apt to be even more predisposed against dissidents. Rather, the point is that the social and ideological biases which intrude especially in political trials are rooted in the political economy of capitalism which underlies the legal system itself. The jury system remains the best available defense against legal repression, but 'justice' must ultimately await the outcome of continued social struggle, rather than further refinements of legal process. (Author abstract)
Index Term(s): Jury selection; Media coverage; Political influences; Pretrial publicity; Trials
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