Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Press Conferences, Perp Walks, and Trying Criminal Cases in the News Media

A. The Fort Hood Murder Case, Contacts With the News Media, and "Wrestle Mania:"
Have you read about the flack being caught by a defense attorney who is defending the alleged killer in the Fort Hood murder case? In my opinion, based upon all the published reports, that case is beginning to resemble a "Wrestle Mania" press conference! Folks are now complaining because the defense attorney has reportedly posted some comments, critical of the government, in his blog. To complicate matters for the criminal defense lawyer, the judge in the Fort Hood case has also reportedly entered a gag order in the case, which generally means that the lawyers aren't supposed to talk about the case in the news media. In my opinion, the criminal lawyers had better be careful! While what an attorney can say to the news media varies from place to place, an attorney should always be careful not to violate a judge's gag order, or state bar or local court rules.
B. Issues Raised By the Fort Hood Case:
Now, I haven't seen the criminal lawyer's blog, so I don't know what he said about the case. Nor have I seen the judge's gag order. As a result, I have no comments or opinions about the propriety of this criminal defense attorney's comments. But that situation raises some interesting issues about which I do have an opinion!
C. My Opinions and Conclusions About Contact With the News Media:
In my opinion, the government is often more guilty than the defense of using the news media to prejudice the public against the accused. For instance, in criminal cases, particularly high profile criminal cases, the government will often conduct press conferences, (as depicted in the "Wrestle Mania" photograph above!), in which prosecutors and law enforcement officials will sometimes "body slam" the reputation of the accused. In addition, those same public officials will often issue press releases which may also prejudice a criminal defendant's right to a fair trial. They also sometimes talk to the media "off the record." Finally, the feds are also particularly notorious for arresting white collar crime defendants and parading them, handcuffed, in front of the news media in "perp walks." (I am proud that, during my 20 year career as a federal prosecutor, I never authorized a single "perp walk!")
So, in my opinion, the bottom line is that the government should be held to the same standards as the defense. This is particularly true because a criminal defendant has a Constitutional right to a fair trial by an impartial jury!
Now, please let me be clear! I am not using these examples of government abuses to attempt to justify a criminal defense lawyer's comments in a blog. But I am attempting to make a point that, sometimes, the government is even more guilty than the defense of trying to score points in the court of public opinion. In my opinion, both sides, prosecution and defense, should avoid trying to use the news media to try their cases. Put another way, criminal cases should be tried inside the courtroom; not outside on the courtroom steps. In short, both sides should leave the wrestling and the press conferences to the "rastlers!"


  1. Great detailed information, I ll be visiting you more frequently, here is very interesting information.

    Best Attorney

  2. Thank you for your kind comment and visit!