21-year-old (name withheld to protect the anonymity of the accused) was arrested last month in relation to a shooting death and assault with a deadly weapon charges (CA Penal 245) that occurred over a Sony PlayStation video game system. Though these facts may seem simple enough, what is certain is that he has only yet to be accused of this crime, he has not been convicted of murder nor has he stood trial yet. Undue influence may be placed on future trial jurors through media outlet coverage of the crime and this commonly happens in such high profile cases as this.
However, it is one thing to report the news in an unbiased manner and quite another for the District Attorney’s office to use prejudicial language when describing a person who has merely been accused of a crime and not yet convicted. In relation to the shooting in December, the San Francisco District Attorney’s office has done just this in the eyes of the public defender’s office. They have used such phrases as “Christmas-time predator” and “cold-blooded hunter” when speaking to media outlets about the case. This brings up an issue that should be central to every American citizen, the constitutional right to a fair trial.
Though constitutional rights are not an oft-discussed topic they are of utmost importance when it comes to the legal process. In the aforementioned case, the S.F. public defenders office is attempting to place a “gag” order on the D.A.’s office in order to avoid prejudicing future jurors who might be called to serve as advocates of the community that they live in. Our legal system, both in California and throughout the nation, provides those accused of crimes with the right to a fair trial. What does that encompass? Well, among other things, it includes enlisting jurors who will be fair and right-minded during the course of a trial; in other words, people who don’t already believe the defendant to be guilty before they are exposed to the evidentiary facts of a particular case. Using such phrases as the D.A. could certainly prejudice citizens who might be called to jury duty and thus the call for a gag order has gained some popular support, both in the legal community and in the city of San Francisco. The right to a fair trial is one of your rights as an American citizen and no one should be allowed to prejudice others against you before you have been proved to be guilty in a court of law.
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