Sheppard V. Maxwell: Televising Trials Vs. Due Process

The Supreme Court has dealt with many cases over its history that deal with the media involvement in a trial. There have been two direct casesin which the issue of media involvement and televising a trial interfered with a court case and those two court cases were Estes v. Texas in 1965 and Sheppard v. Maxwell in 1966.

In Estes v. Texas, the Supreme Court overturned hte conviction of a defendant whose trial was televised to the public. The Supreme Court held that the defendant was deprived of hisi due process rights. In addition the court declared that by televising the trial, the jury was made inherently prejudicial.

The very next year the Supreme Court dealt with the same issue in Maxwell v. Sheppard. Dr. Sam Sheppard was put on trial and charged with murdering his wife. He was convicted and sentenced to many long years in prison. After serving several years behind bars, he sought a relief through habeas corpus. The Supreme Court granted the writ and released Sheppard. The Supreme Court in an 8 to 1 decision declared that Sheppard had been deprived of a fair trial becuase the judge failed to minimize “the prejudicial impact of massive publicity.” Justice Clark wrote the majority opinion for the court and the only judge who dissented was Justice Black.

Prior to the 1960s there were relatively few restrictions placed on the media when it came to televising court cases. However with the ruling in Estes v. Texas and Maxwell v. Sheppard. The ruling in Sheppard gave more attention to the 6th amendment rights of the people to have a fair trial and the due process of the law.

Since then, judges are aware that the media can impact the jury members of a pending trial. As a result, judges have been giving strict orders to the jury members not to watch the news or read news magazines or speak to any of the other jury members. These measures are all taken to ensure that the defendant gets a fair trial. Juror sequestion diminshes the liklihood of prejudice of the jurors.

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