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Trial By Media – Opinion From Seattle Defense Lawyer News

The Trayvon Martin, Robert Bales and Amanda Knox cases show why the search for the truth won’t to be found in the taking of sides based solely on press reports.

Regardless of how you perceive these recent high profile cases, and whether your information comes from this side or that, the true resolution of these cases should come within the criminal justice system. As Seattle criminal defense attorneys who have defended high-profile clients, we are very familiar with this phenomenon of “trial by media.”

If you have been following along, and it would be hard not to with the volumes of media attention on these high profile cases, the truth of the guilt or innocence under the law may have little to do with “what you have heard.”  One of the classic cases of “trial by media” is the Amanda Knox case.  If you only read the Italian press or the British tabloids (and even many US outlets) you could have rightfully assumed that Knox and her Italian boyfriend were guilty of something.

Except, the crime from its first report didn’t make any sense.  A ritual killing by a near stranger – and allegedly one woman sexually assaulting another – with no other motive and bad evidence that eventually the Italian courts agreed just didn’t add up. “Facts” published in the tabloids turned out to be in error, made up, or otherwise suspect. After years of incarceration Knox and Sollecito were freed. If you would like to read more about that case check out the story here.

The Crowley Law Firm PLLC has defended many who if you just relied on the newspaper reports would almost certainly be guilty. But courts are not newspapers or television stations. Aggressive representation by a criminal defense attorney, the rules of evidence and a judge frequently return a different result. This should not be a surprise. Our court system tries to operate outside the public arena.  Facts must be proved and not just asserted. The accused are not guilty just because they have been accused.

In the Robert Bales case (the soldier excused of a heinous mass murder of Afghani civilians) the geo-political implications have had press reports wildly swinging from portraying the American as a mass murderer or a traumatized war veteran in a free-fire zone.  Attorney John Henry Browne is representing Bales in that case. It would be hard not to stumble over one of the thousands of stories on this case but what will actually be allowed in court (and a military court at that)?

The Trayvon Martin case is the case where the furor in the press and a constant stream of new and unverified information creates a soup that only a good judge and competent criminal lawyers will be able to sift through and resolve.  Indeed it seems that no one can wait for the evidence to come in. In just a period of a few days (or a few minutes) the facts of the case would have you believe the case is anything from a justified shooting to a cold-blooded murder. Yes, the media attention was valuable and responsible for bringing scrutiny to an injustice but what will become of any future prosecution?

Both sides of the tragic case have an army of representatives and spokespeople and reams of paper with talking points. Leaks are strategically placed by some parties to defend actions or bolster position. Public opinion, that unsummoned  jury of citizens, is thrown back and forth on a sea of supposed facts.

A criminal defense lawyer looks at this in a different way. First, in one of these trial by media cases a good criminal defense lawyer will know that a judge and a jury and the rules of evidence will restrict the blatant speculation and unprofessional sleuthing of the facts. Second, the judge should seriously restrict what the jury may consider under the rules of law. The past of an accused and certainly of the victim will not come into play for the titillation of the jury.

The Crowley Law Firm PLLC has run into this issue several times when press reports paint a client in a particular manner, regardless of what the facts of the case maybe. Also a fundamental misunderstanding of how the criminal justice system works and what are the Constitutional protections afforded the accused. The right to a fair and speedy trial and the right to appeal a conviction which may be in error do not operate on the 24 hour news cycle.

The Crowley Law Firm has a long impressive record.  John Crowley has practiced in the arena of criminal defense law or over twenty years in Seattle, Yakima, Tacoma, Spokane and many other cities in Washington State and Oregon. They are also certified to practice in federal courts and in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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