Court of public opinion

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For the book titled: "In the Court of Public Opinion" see: Alger Hiss.

Trying cases in the court of public opinion refers to using the news media to influence public support for one side or the other in a court case. This can result in persons outside the justice system (i.e. people other than the judge or jury) taking action for or against a party. For instance, the reputation of a party may be greatly damaged even if he wins the case.[1][2] A lawyer noted that when he represents high-profile clients, he sometimes finds them in a Bermuda triangle of cross-currents generated by a criminal investigation, the news media, and the U.S. Congress.[3] It has been noted that there is no Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the court of public opinion.[4]

It is said that high-profile cases have important implications for balancing the right of the public to scrutinize the judicial process and the right of the participants to a fair trial.[5] An argument against U.S. ratification of the Statute of the International Criminal Court was that a politically motivated prosecutor might attempt to convict the United States in the court of public opinion of a violation of international law, by charging one of its military or civilian officials with war crimes.[6] The court of public opinion has been described as the most important informal court.[7] It has been said that the proliferation of litigation public relations and the failure of the bar and bench to forbid it have made criticism of it virtually moot, and that lawyers have a duty to tend to their clients' interests in the court of public opinion as zealously as they do in courts of law.[8]


It has been said that the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case attempted to try the case in the court of public opinion by making unsupported allegations to the media.[5] In the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, it was alleged that parties were using court pleadings as press releases.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ JM Moses (1995), Legal Spin Control: Ethics and Advocacy in the Court of Public Opinion, Columbia Law Review, JSTOR 1123196 
  2. ^ Haggerty, James (2003), In the court of public opinion : winning your case with public relations 
  3. ^ Bennett, Robert S. (1996–1997), Press Advocacy and the High-Profile Client, 30, Loy. L. A. L. Rev., p. 13 
  4. ^ J Marquis (2005), The Myth of Innocence, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 
  5. ^ a b The Court of Public Opinion, Duke University School Of Law, September 28–29, 2007 
  6. ^ Leigh, Monroe (2001), United States and the Statute of Rome, The, 95, Am. J. Int'l L., p. 124 
  7. ^ JM Bryson; BC Crosby (1993), Policy planning and the design and use of forums, arenas, and courts (PDF) 
  8. ^ John C. Watson (January 2002), Litigation Public Relations: The Lawyers' Duty to Balance News Coverage of Their Clients, 7 (1), Communication Law and Policy, pp. 77–103, doi:10.1207/S15326926CLP0701_04 
  9. ^ SA Terilli; SL Splichal; PJ Driscol (2007), Lowering the Bar: Privileged Court Filings as Substitutes for Press Releases in the Court of Public Opinion (PDF), Communication Law