Within the past few weeks, newspapers and media outlets along the Eastern seaboard have been gleefully reporting on a Boston lawyer who advocates on behalf of dui defendants who has himself been charged with boating while intoxicated. The true tragedy in the reported events are the injuries suffered by a young woman who has lost an arm after jumping out of the Defendant’s boat. Her arm was reportedly severed when it was caught within the propeller of the boat allegedly operated at the time by the lawyer in question.
Once within the cross hairs of a media feeding frenzy, it can become an arduous task for an attorney to attempt to extricate his or her client from biased reporting on the facts of such an incident. Such prejudicial reporting could otherwise irreparably impact a jury pool of citizens empaneled should a fair trial be demanded in the coming weeks.
Unfortunately, within today’s media age, the motivation to sensationalize a course of events to sell page views has too often run counter to the aims of the criminal justice system.
Years ago prior to the social media twitter age, those formulating procedural rules within criminal cases nationwide could more easily adapt to specific cases that potentially compromised the workings of a fair trial.
For example, in days gone by, pre internet rules of criminal procedure were capable of more ensuring the fair trial of individualized defendants. Through the filing of change of venue motions, defense lawyers within high profile cases had a reasoned way to address finding unbiased jurors residing outside the sphere of media scrutiny of a given local case.
When the reach of media reporting was limited by the range of local newspaper/radio/tv/ outlets, it was commonplace for a legal verdict to be safeguarded by moving the venue of a respective trial to a locality outside of the local distribution range of specific newspaper outlet and/or radio/television frequencies. In so doing, the facade of public confidence in a jury verdict unfettered with reasonable doubts as to a respective juror’s pre conceived notions about the guilt or innocence of a sitting Defendant could be assured.
Let there be no suggestion on my part that I possess the needed information within which to cast a knowledgeable basis to suggest the guilt or innocence of the Boston lawyer subject to pending criminal prosecution. However, for the purpose of this editorial the concern to be enunciated is not the ultimate guilt or innocence of such an individual, but the fair administration of justice directed toward an individual potentially swept within the vortex of sensationalized media exposure that unduly compromises an American citizen’s right to a fair trial.
I cannot express the extent to which on many occasions the most vilified of individuals targeted by sensationalized media reporting were later exonerated. However, the zeal by which presumed accusations of guilt are initially disseminated within such cases consistently overshadows the reporting of dismissals or reduction of charges against those wrongfully targeted for prosecution.
Exonerations buried deep within newspapers or casually reported as an aside on television broadcasts may provide perfunctory due diligence on the part of the media, but do little to restore the reputation of an individual smeared with the brush of initial adverse media exposure prior to a fair legal verification of initial criminal allegations.
At first blush, my initial thoughts upon digesting the reported information within the Boston tragedy is the inevitable central issue of causation. Irrespective of whether evidence can withstand suppression as to the lawyer’s alleged level of intoxication, I can submit that based upon personal experience that whether the state can prove the woman’s injuries were caused by the Defendant or the woman’s own negligent conduct can often be difficult to prove. As a result, increased potential dui punishment incurred due to the serious bodily injuries sustained by the alleged boating passenger may very well prove unsubstantiated as being caused by the Defendant’s alleged boating impairment.
Nevertheless, whether a causal legal connection can ultimately be established or not by Boston prosecutors to prove that “but for defendant’s intoxication,” the injured woman would not have lost her arm is often inconsequential. Motivated by ratings, the media’s motivation to fulfill content for a 24 hour news cycle in constant demand for nationwide updated news that will excite interest among the general public is what is important to media distributors.
It will be most instructive for readers of this article to keep close tabs as to the ultimate disposition within this case of the Boston lawyer. If experience serves me well, it would not be surprising in the least to learn of the later dismissal of certain, if not all criminal charges within a case such as this. However, such a development is customarily far more to difficult to uncover than the media’s initial actions to report the case in the most heinous light possible.
After all the subject of this media story is a dui lawyer accused of drunk driving causing serious bodily injury. It is far easier for the media to report mere sensationalized allegations against this legal professional and allow the legal facts proven to sort themselves out later. The compulsion to present a theme of hypocrisy among a member of the Massachusetts bar who in any way played a role in criminal conduct is simply too tantalizing to allow later facts to get in the way of a good story.
There is always a delicate balance between the reporting of information that serves the public interest and the rights of an individualized Defendant accused of a crime. A Defendant is a person, we all need to take heed of that reality. In this regard it is important to keep in mind that the Defendant we prematurely scorn today, could be ourselves tomorrow.
Media outlets have simply too much of a vested financial interest and too much constitutional protection to forego the premature reporting of “alleged” criminal conduct. Within this context, it is imperative that competent legal counsel not only confront the battle within the confines of a criminal courtroom, but also the hearts and minds of those who will never be privy to the true evidence later presented within trial.
In so doing, the otherwise honorable reputation of good people later to be exonerated can best be preserved.