Prosecution and the Press

July 5, 1967

Report Outline
Crime Coverage and Criminal Justice
The Law of Free Press and Fair Trial
Proposals for Assuring Fairer Trials

Crime Coverage and Criminal Justice

Treatment of news about crime and criminal trials creates a dilemma that has been attracting wide public attention in this country. When news accounts erode the case of a defendant charged with a criminal offense, or threaten to prejudice the jurors in the case, two constitutional guarantees are brought into conflict: The First Amendment right to freedom of speech and press, and the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial trial by jury. A recurring question before the Supreme Court is which of the two basic rights must give way, even if ever so slightly.

However lofty the setting for these arguments, however academic their tone, the outcome is relevant to the whole society. At issue may be whether one man's life is placed in jeopardy, or whether another man's speech remains unfettered. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black has described the dilemma in these terms: “Free speech and fair trial are two of the most cherished policies in our civilization, and it would be a trying task to choose between them.” But the Supreme Court is called on time and again to make that choice. In the landmark Sheppard case in 1966, it voiced new concern over sensational trial and pre-trial publicity. And it urged the lower courts to exercise their full powers to insulate themselves from outside prejudicial pressures.

Bar and press groups have been conducting studies, sometimes together, sometimes independently, trying to reconcile varying viewpoints in the free press-fair trial confrontation. Much attention has been focused on the Reardon Report, prepared for the consideration of the American Bar Association. The Reardon Committee, a panel of distinguished judges and lawyers, has recommended that court and police officials withhold from news media “potentially prejudicial” information from the time of arrest of a suspect until his conviction or acquittal. This proposal, among others, has been somewhat revised since it was put forward tentatively in October 1966, and it will be presented to the association's annual convention in Honolulu, Aug. 1–10, for further study.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Apr. 16, 2004  Broadcast Indecency
Mar. 28, 2003  Movie Ratings
Nov. 17, 1995  Sex, Violence and the Media
Feb. 19, 1993  School Censorship
Dec. 20, 1991  The Obscenity Debate
Dec. 07, 1990  Does Cable TV Need More Regulation?
May 16, 1986  Pornography
Jan. 04, 1985  The Modern First Amendment
Oct. 19, 1979  Pornography Business Upsurge
Mar. 09, 1979  Broadcasting's Deregulated Future
Mar. 21, 1973  Pornography Control
May 17, 1972  Violence in the Media
Jan. 21, 1970  First Amendment and Mass Media
Jul. 05, 1967  Prosecution and the Press
Jun. 28, 1961  Peacetime Censorship
Apr. 12, 1961  Censorship of Movies and TV
Dec. 23, 1959  Regulation of Television
Jul. 29, 1959  Control of Obscenity
Jul. 27, 1955  Bad Influences on Youth
Mar. 21, 1952  Policing the Comics
Apr. 12, 1950  Censorship of Motion Pictures
Sep. 20, 1939  Censorship of Press and Radio
Criminal Law Procedure and Due Process
Freedom of Speech and Press
Journalism and the News