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High-profile cases in the media

June 22, 2022

By Cheryl Wright

If a case attracts media attention due to the public figures involved or the seriousness of the crimes committed, it is considered a high-profile case. The media commonly expose information and details to the public before the trial begins, which makes it more difficult for jurors to be fair and objective. Paula Hannaford-Agor, Principal Court Research Consultant, at the National Center for States Courts (NCSC) stated “a major challenge to courts in managing high-profile cases is that they often attract media staff who do not regularly cover the courts and may have very little accurate information about court procedures or legal terminology. They often need more time and attention to ensure that they are publishing accurate information.” The additional pressure on the court system from the presence of the media or the public that the case attracts can be a significant challenge, even for a jurisdiction that has previous experience.

For years, there have been high-profile cases that have consumed the attention of the media and the public. In 2021, we can look at some of those cases that had us glued to our television screens:

  • The case of Gabby Petito who was reported missing after leaving on a trip to travel the country
  • The case of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin which sparked nationwide protest
  • The many trials of Bill Cosby shocked the world when the creator of the Cosby Show was accused of multiple allegations of abuse against women
  • The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse
  • The trial for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery

How does a court prepare for and manage a high-profile case? According to the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), it is important for the administrative judge to determine whether the court can handle a high-profile case before it occurs. Select a team of experts within the justice system to ensure that a high-profile case is managed effectively.  Not all high-profile cases ultimately go to trial. But when they do make it to trial, experts should have extensive knowledge in court management, media relations, and court security as well as knowledge of key court functions. The judge and attorneys determine whether prospective jurors can be fair and impartial during voir dire. The use of a checklist can ensure that each team member understands their role and is prepared to undertake all critical tasks at each stage of the litigation. The general public's perception of our criminal justice system is largely based on high-profile cases. The courts want the media to understand that each case deserves individualized attention and that it is the court’s responsibility to ensure every hearing is fair and thorough.

Has your court managed a high-profile case? Share your best practices with us at Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Vimeo.