Capital cases and cases involving heinous crimes are some of the most difficult to manage. They may not necessarily generate national media attention, but may meet the general definition of a high-profile case based solely on the amount of local or regional attention.
Often these cases elicit strong community views not only about the ultimate question of the defendant’s guilt, but also concerning critical pretrial and post-trial events such as bond hearings, sentencing decisions, and appeals. As members of the community, court staff may also have strong opinions about the case. The high-profile case leadership team should ensure that all staff present themselves as professional and unbiased in public comments.
Victims, victims’ families and defendants’ families will also have strong feelings about the case and may wish to attend all court hearings. Seating arrangements in the courtroom should allocate enough seats to accommodate these individuals, but should take care that they are not given adjacent seats.
Pretrial publicity and strong community opinions in capital cases and cases involving heinous crimes may make it more difficult to empanel an impartial jury. The court should be prepared to summon and qualify a much larger pool of prospective jurors for jury selection. It is even possible that an impartial jury cannot be empaneled in that community, and the court will need to empanel an out-of-county jury or move the case to another venue.
Capital cases and cases involving heinous crime often involve graphic and disturbing evidence and testimony that can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety for juror and even court staff. The court should be prepared to offer support including counseling services, if possible, to jurors and any similarly affected staff.