January 18, 2005
Cashing In on High Profile Criminal Trials
Findlaw.com and CourtTV columnist Jonna Spilbor discusses the phenomenon of witnesses, like Amber Frey, cashing in on their roles in high-profile criminal trials. She writes:
Should jurors and lay witnesses in criminal trials be permitted to turn a civic duty into cold hard cash? In my opinion, the cons clearly outweigh the pros. The First Amendment issue is one for the courts to decide; but the policy issue, at least, clearly counsels against allowing profit from either testimony or jury service. A criminal defendant is entitled to a fair and impartial jury of his peers. When the prospect of money enters in the jury box, it's not a stretch to surmise that some juror, somewhere, will be more interested in the prospect of cold hard cash than in the thankless job of jury duty. But jurors should be thinking about justice - not how they can profit. One thing is certain: justice should never be for sale. What about witnesses? They, too, should keep their eye on the ball: They ought to be thinking of telling the truth, not of maximizing their profit. When money enters the picture, there is a very real potential that "star witnesses" with dollars signs in their eyes may color or create "evidence" to maximize their profitability. After all, much like real celebrities, these courtroom "stars" are made, not born. They know more lurid testimony will make their stories more saleable. The temptation to exaggerate - or outright lie - may prove irresistible.
Spilbor goes on to suggest that Frey could be prosecuted under California law for receiving compensation as a non-expert witness, and that, at a minimum, her book deal should have been disclosed to the defense as ammunition for cross-examination. Read more . . . [Mark Godsey]
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