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The Scott Peterson trial has now changed venue, the Michael Jackson parties and their attorneys are (blessedly) gagged, Kobe Bryant’s accuser’s medical records are sealed, for now, and the Martha Stewart jurors have been carefully screened to keep out anyone who has ever socialized with her daughter, or slept on her 300-thread-count Embroidered Tambour sheets. Each of these strategies is meant to ensure an untainted jury pool in one of the dozen trials-of-the-century playing out on a cable network near you. Each is nearly comic in the scope of its ineffectiveness. Does changing venue — moving a trial three Starbuckses north or two Old Navys south — really make a difference in an era of national, 24-hour, gavel-to-gavel news coverage? Maybe if the Peterson trial were relocated to the interior of the largest dormant volcano on Papua, New Guinea, one could find a jury pool untainted by the relentless tabloid coverage and morass of misinformation available on the Internet. Does gagging Michael Jackson really change the fact that he is an icon, a legend — a wing nut, to be sure — but nevertheless able to summon the screaming fans and cameras necessary to transform an ordinary criminal proceeding into a music video (“The King of Pop’s Limo-Top Dance Party & Arraignment”)? Does the fact that Kobe Bryant’s accuser hasn’t been named in the mainstream media change the reality that you can click on a Web site and find her home address? And it was only after the presiding judge in the Martha Stewart trial had worked her way through all five boroughs in an attempt to find 12 jurors who’d never heard of a wire whisk that she was finally able to scrounge up a jury composed of the dozen local souls too preoccupied with Michael and Kobe to care about Martha. These efforts to keep pretrial publicity at bay — at least long enough to select a jury — were inadequate back in 1807, when Aaron Burr went on trial for treason. His attorneys argued that it was impossible to find jurors who hadn’t been influenced by the widespread publicity. Chief Justice John Marshall ultimately ruled that while jurors with “strong prejudices” could be excluded, “light impressions” based on prior knowledge of the case would be acceptable. Whether it’s still possible to have light impressions in a tabloid world is not at all clear. Mark Twain, writing in 1875, was struck by the silliness of excluding any informed juror from a high-profile trial. “Why,” he wrote, “could not the jury law be so altered as to give men of brains and honesty an equal chance with fools and miscreants?” And that was in an era where you could find untainted jurors so long as you affirmatively looked for people who didn’t read. Those days are over. Jurors can be tainted just standing in the supermarket checkout aisles. (And jurors tainted by “Inside Edition” are vastly scarier than the “miscreants” decried by Twain.) It’s past time for us to agree that the tools afforded judges to control the effects of pretrial publicity ( voir dire , sequestration, postponement and absurd instructions to ignore that which you know to be true) are the legal equivalents of a stone and flint. If we are going to ensure that the rich and famous receive unbiased juries, we need to make some drastic changes to the legal system. The threshold question is this: Do famous people really get off more easily than more obscure individuals? Alternatively, are jurors actually harder on them? Does it matter that celebrities may be able to buy themselves first-class justice, with fancy lawyers, expensive jury consultants, and top-notch PR experts? Or are juries too smart to fall for such manipulation? And even if the dynamic isn’t real, should we worry that the public is certain that celebrities get off too easily? The research is not at all conclusive, but most experts agree that although juries generally do very well, they are influenced by pretrial publicity in ways that either lead them to be too hard on, or too soft on, famous defendants. Empirical studies have shown that when juries perceive their verdict will be important, they will hold the prosecution to a higher standard of proof. One study from 1993 showed that jurors will be far more likely to acquit the attractive versus unattractive defendant. A 1976 study revealed that jurors find high-status defendants less blameworthy. A study in Basic and Applied Social Psychology recently revealed, interestingly, that black jurors are harder on black defendants, and white jurors go easier on white ones. One Northeastern University study showed that while athletes were arrested at a much higher rate than unknown defendants, the athletes were convicted at a significantly lower rate. Notheastern’s and other studies also suggest that many assume that the famous and talented are either too good to behave badly, or that their victims are opportunists — witness the central defenses in both the Jackson and Bryant cases. Ultimately, it’s hard to imagine not being influenced by the presence of a celebrity in the dock. Today, a controversial verdict can win a juror a round-trip to “Good Morning America,” instant fame (for doing something less vile than eating maggots), drinks with the defendant, and a lucrative book deal. So there are pretty powerful incentives to acquit. An O.J. Simpson juror reportedly got $57,000 from a book deal and TV interviews. And does anyone really want to be known as the guy who stole Kobe from the Lakers? Since nothing can really be done about the media-feeding frenzy — in this country we believe, and the courts have enshrined, the unfettered right to report on trials — we cannot muzzle the press. But if we can agree that this relentless media circus tips the scales, we should consider some changes to celebrity trials. The question thus becomes whether it’s possible to normalize a celebrity trial. One modest proposal: Let’s give legal effect to the phrase “jury of one’s peers.” What if we could impanel only jurors unimpressed with the magic of Neverland, or indifferent to the prospect of hobnobbing with NBA athletes? It could happen. In a curious accident, among the 85 potential jurors in Robert Blake’s murder trial, two of the folks filling out questionnaires last January were Christina Applegate and Harry Shearer — actors who would justifiably be less impressed with Baretta’s star power than their own. But lesser lights, if sufficiently jaded, would also qualify. We live in a time when the semi-talented, the formerly talented, and the never-to-be-talented all can find steady TV work, so it’s likely that a panel of washed-up, world-weary former stars would be delighted to perform their civic duty by sitting in judgment over one of their own. Specialty courts are increasingly in vogue: bankruptcy courts, family courts, drug courts, science courts. A recent article in the Indiana Law Journal sensibly calls for the establishment of “high-profile Courts,” with handpicked judges specially trained to deal with the media. They would have lifetime appointments (and would thus not be susceptible to public pressure) and extensive experience with celebrity trials — so that the famous could waive their right to a jury trial and be tried by a bored, disaffected judge. An improvement on this system would be to create a celebrity court in which that disaffected judge joined forces with semifamous jurors. It’s not inconceivable that Michael Jackson might get a fair trial at the hands of, say, Pee Wee Herman, Boy George, Robert Downey, Jr., Winona Ryder, Rush Limbaugh, and Kato Kaelin. The weird judged by peers of weirdness. At common law, jurors were selected precisely because they knew the facts of the case and the parties. Since the minds and choices of modern celebrities are more incomprehensible than particle physics, it makes sense to return to that practice in high-profile cases. But we need real insiders; modern jurors think they know the parties, when all they really know is the spin. Ultimately, there aren’t many ways for us to brace against the prejudicial frenzy that comes with a celebrity trial. Except perhaps to remind ourselves that one can be gorgeous, or talented, or a Jackson, and still not be entitled to simply take what one wants. While it’s not known whether any of the stars on trial this year committed the crimes alleged, it would go a long way toward serving real justice to be assured of a jury more interested in truth than an autograph. Dahlia Lithwickis a senior editor and U.S. Supreme Court correspondent for Slate. She is co-author of Me v. Everybody( Workman Publishing).

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