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Televising Trials

Updated: Mar 25

About one year ago, social media was bombarded with updates, clips and fan-made memes about the defamation lawsuit between actor Johnny Depp and his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard. With the approval of Judge Penny Azacarate, the proceedings were broadcast in real-time, drawing in millions of viewers daily.


As the plaintiffs are required to meet the burden of proof, Depp and his legal team had a whole week to argue their case and successfully gain public support before Heard’s side; within days, the court of public opinion ruled in favor of Depp. This led many to question whether it is possible for jurors to not be influenced by all the highly biased posts and clips they see on social media. Additionally, the effects of the live broadcasts also go beyond the boundaries of the legal system,  and—irrespective of which side was right in the Depp v. Heard trial—have led to significant damages to the mental health community and victims of abuse, who will now find it even more difficult to speak out against their abusers. 


Those in favor of televising trials often cite “education” and “truth”—both of which promote the fairness of a trial. Televising trials teaches the public about legal proceedings and their intricacies. The public can also serve as a “checking” power to the system, pressuring involved parties to adhere to policies and remain honest when identifying lies and inconsistencies is simplified by publicized statements. Meanwhile, critics point out past cases where the media wrongfully influenced the public’s opinion before all relevant facts were presented. These were the result of selective and biased reporting from companies that push out unverified narratives to draw attention to their platforms.


During the Depp v. Heard trial, clinical psychologist Dr. Shannon Curry testified on Heard’s diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD). As these disorders are used to portray Heard as the abuser in the relationship, the amount of attention the trial has received only perpetuates the stigma that associates these disorders with abusive behavior. Many argue that regardless of the justification behind the trial's verdict, televising it increased the potential for widespread misinformation. This is more than enough reason to review the practice and all its consequences.  


Sources


Davis, Norman. “Television in Our Courts - The Proven Advantages, the Unproven Dangers.” Judicature, vol. 64, no. 2, Aug. 1980, pp. 85–92. 


Gerson, Jennifer. “Johnny Depp Trial Unlocks New Way for Abusers to Exert Power over Survivors, Experts Worry.” The 19th News, 23 May 2022, https://19thnews.org/2022/05/johnny-depp-amber-heard-trial-abusers-power-survivors/  


Quick, Lori. “Juror Misconduct: Recognizing It and Raising It on Appeal - SDAP.” Sixth District Appellate Program, Sixth District Appellate Program, http://www.sdap.org/downloads/research/criminal/jmcdu.pdf


Resnik, Judith. “The Functions of Publicity and of Privatization in Courts and their Replacements (from Jeremy Bentham to #MeToo and Google Spain)”. Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 659, October 22, 2018, pp. 1-25. 

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