The Canadian Bar Association
Criminal

Canada's not the place for graceless journalists

 

By AdvocateDaily Staff

Biased Nancy Grace-style TV coverage of jury trials hasn’t come to Canada and there’s hope it never will, says Toronto criminal lawyer John Rosen who was at the centre of the media spotlight while he defended Paul Bernardo.

“Thank heaven for that,” says Rosen.

“It was like watching a sporting event with colour commentary,” says Rosen of Grace and the performances of those of her ilk who covered the Casey Anthony first-degree murder trial that wrapped up in an Orlando. The jury’s acquittal on the homicide charges was met with howls of talking head-fuelled outrage. Read Story

“The commentators were basically second-guessing the jurors who hadn’t even decided what the facts were. There’s a difference between hearing the evidence and deciding the facts, and the jurors don’t actually decide the facts until the end of the case.”

Rosen says Grace’s latest relentless performance on her HLN show and the public’s riled reaction “epitomizes the ignorance Americans have of their own legal system.

“The American legal system is an extension of British justice in which the presumption of innocence and a requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the bedrock of justice in a free and democratic society,” says Rosen.

“Nancy Grace represents a rush to justice and a usurping of the function of the jury in assessing the evidence and determining whether the prosecution can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If we abandon that system of justice all that will be left is anarchy and vigilantism. America will be no better than the Third World countries it purports to help bring democracy to.”

Rosen says he has never had the type of experience the defence lawyers in the Anthony case were treated to, even though he’s been the lead defence counsel in some of the most high-profile murder trials in this country.

“The first case in which journalists offered opinions about the case and the accused while the trial was ongoing was Bernardo, and the fear was that our press corps would descend to the level of the American press corps,” says Rosen. “In fact, it didn’t happen then, and it hasn’t happened yet.”

Rosen says he thinks the burgeoning US take-no-prisoners legal journalism has not jumped the border because “it’s offensive to people’s sensibilities.” He also notes that it probably won’t because there are more stringent laws in Canada governing the media in these cases.

“I think that’s a great thing. All of the safeguards that are present in our law that are absent in the American system just underscore the difference and the results. I think people have more confidence in our jury verdicts than they do in the States,” says Rosen. “When is the last time there was an acquittal here and a huge public outrage, you just don’t see it. That’s because, generally speaking, what you have is balanced reporting of the case and the verdict is what the verdict is.

“You’re always going to have people disagreeing with a verdict, but this visceral outrage is absent in Canada,” says Rosen. “And media like Nancy Grace are all the difference.”

He adds that such reporting with a goal in mind could boomerang. “I think it may have actually hurt the prosecution in the Anthony case. Jurors may well have reacted badly to the pressure that they felt coming from the media which was essentially demanding a conviction. Jurors get notoriously independent once they’ve been sworn.”

Even though the Anthony jury was sequestered and not privy to Grace’s rants during the trial, Rosen notes the three years of one-sided ranting rhetoric leading up to it probably took a toll.

Jurors are not sequestered in Canada during a trial nor are the media free to produce biased content that convicts an accused person prior to trial by tainting the jury pool he says, adding our system is the example to follow.

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