Category Archives: Trial by Media

Why does the majority often get high profile cases wrong?

Scales of JusticeLooking back at the year 2014, I followed two South African trials in some detail.

In both cases, before trial, it would have been hard to be confident of the outcome without a detailed knowledge of the evidence.

Oscar Pistorius was alleged to have deliberately shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp after an argument.

Shrien Dewani was alleged to have hired men to murder his wife.

I will not go into the evidence here, please refer to the hyperlinks, except to state that the evidence in both cases was conclusive. There is no doubt whatsoever that the allegations were false, after the evidence was examined in court.

What I find interesting though is that in both cases, it appears the prejudice of the majority was totally wrong. The man on the street (or perhaps I should say on the internet) apparently concluded well in advance of trial, and with little doubt, that both men were guilty as charged. This prejudice seems to have only strengthened as the evidence was heard.

For countries that rely on juries to come to correct conclusions, the implications are alarming. It seems that the man on the street is not reliable, and is easily inflenced by pre-trial publicity. It is therefore not surprising that wrongful convictions can easily occur in such circumstances.

And that’s the memo!