North Texas Daily

Criminal court cases should not be televised to ensure justice

Criminal court cases should not be televised to ensure justice

Criminal court cases should not be televised to ensure justice
July 16
13:00 2021

Before social media and the 24-hour news cycle, most people got their true crime fix from newspapers and books. Everything changed when serial killer Ted Bundy’s criminal trial was nationally televised.

Now, consumers can find books, TV shows, documentaries, podcasts and even songs that detail the criminal capacities that some people have.

The state of Florida decided to experiment with cameras in the courtroom, allowing electronic media coverage. The Florida Supreme Court reached this decision on May 1, 1979 — just a month before Bundy was set to appear on trial for the murders of Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy and the attacks of Cheryl Thomas, Karen Chandler and Kathy Kleiner.

During Bundy’s pretrial hearing, he asked for the restriction of camera use in the courtroom because he was worried that he would be tried “before the big eye.” After all, there would no longer just be one judge but the multitudes of people who were going to be watching as well.

While Bundy was found guilty for the crimes he committed against those five young women (and the other 30 girls and young women he admitted to killing in over five states), he raised significant concern. What would this shift and added external pressure mean for judicial proceedings?

Televising a high-profile case leads to a large audience. People are prone to behave differently because they know they are being watched — this is a phenomenon known as the Hawthorne effect. Bundy put on quite the show for his courtroom audience and the cameras, having gone as far as marrying his girlfriend while standing on trial. Would he have behaved this way if he wasn’t being observed?

Not all trials have been as successful in providing an accurate verdict as Bundy’s.

Just a year before his execution, the world witnessed another high-profile case. Over 40 years after the last Nazi concentration camps were liberated, naturalized Ukrainian-American John Demjanjuk was stripped of his citizenship and deported to Israel to face trial for his alleged crimes against humanity. Demjanjuk was accused of being a Ukrainian prisoner of war, later trained by Nazis to operate gas chambers.

Demjanjuk faced relentless scrutiny at the hands of the crowds that gathered outside the courtroom and in front of their television screens all over the world.

The case against Demjanjuk was largely based on survivor testimonies and an S.S. identity card. There were several conflicting details during the trial. A witness named Eliahu Rosenberg identified Demjanjuk as Ivan the Terrible but a 1945 statement signed by Rosenberg claimed that he had seen a Treblinka inmate kill Ivan the Terrible in August 1943.

Demjanjuk was found guilty of being Ivan the Terrible despite the conflicting details from witnesses and documentation and was hanged.

Despite his crimes against humanity, Dalia Dorner, one of the three judges who found Demjanjuk guilty, did not believe in the death penalty. Nevertheless, she caved in due to external pressures from the public, according to her interview in Netflix’s “The Devil Next Door.”

The Israeli Supreme Court went on to overturn the verdict because they were presented with new evidence that created “reasonable doubt.”

He had been convicted of being Ivan the Terrible, not just a Nazi. The court had found evidence that he served as a prison guard in at least two other Nazi death camps. He was a Nazi, but he was not who they claimed he was, and the verdict was overturned.

Would this have happened if the judges, prosecution and defense were given the space and privacy to truly go through all proceedings as carefully as possible without millions of spectators? In the extensive video documentation of the case, viewers can still see how people wrestled with the proceedings of this case.

It is innately human to want to see justice served — especially when it involves gruesome crimes. We need to know justice will be served to the full extent of the law and nothing suspicious is going on behind closed doors. But what does that mean for the victims of these crimes if their cases are overturned?

Court cases should not be televised. This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a way for the public to watch these court cases, but it should be after the trials are over, helping limit external pressures. It would not be fair to the victims of these crimes if televising their case presents a high possibility of verdicts being overturned in the future.

We owe it to the victims of these crimes to make sure they receive the justice they deserve, and the security that external factors will not negatively affect their ability to receive some sort of justice.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

About Author

Tania Amador

Tania Amador

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