When child sex abuse headlines tempt jurors

In a Philadelphia courtroom, lawyers are plodding through the landmark priest child sex abuse case.  The proceedings continue to make headlines, and an announcement about the fate of eight priests Friday added to the scandal’s news coverage.  All the headlines could catch the attention of some jurors in the case.

Drexel University Law School professor Dan Filler said it’s difficult to keep a jury protected from information.”It’s not only a difficult task, it’s pretty close to an impossible task,” Filler said.According to Filler, if even one juror reads the paper or listens to the news that could be enough to cause a ripple effect. “Because they can share it with everyone else on the panel.  The jurors pretty much would have to tell either the judge or even the court officer they’re dealing with that they’ve heard some information they probably should not hear.”Jules Epstein is an Associate Professor of Law at Widener School of Law. He says it happens — from time to time jurors are exposed to what’s in the media. 


“It’s going to depend on what the particular article or news brodcast is, how potentially inflammatory it is, and then the judge would have to decide, ‘Can I fix this?’  Can I say, ‘Well I know you’ve read that but put it out of your mind.  Don’t give it any weight whatsoever when you decide this case.’  And you ask the juror, ‘Are you able to do that?'”Epstein said judges are pretty careful about giving very explicit instructions, and he believes many jurors know their doing a serious job and make a good faith effort to avoid the news.

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Anne Bowen Poulin, a law professor at Villanova Law School, said the Web’s made it much harder to shield jurors from hearing or reading daily news reports.”It’s very harder to avoid and courts have also found that in this age jurors are less responsive to their instructions in informing them that they need not read anything about the case – that jurors for whatever reasons tend to disregard that more than they used to.”

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