Sheppard V Maxwell Landmark Case

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Sheppard v. Maxwell Landmark Case

In a democratic society, the Supreme Court has noted, the press fulfills the important function of informing the public about the judicial process. Consequently, the media carry the ethical obligation not to impair criminal trial proceedings deliberately. Ultimately, the responsibility to ensure fairness rests with the trial court.

It is important to ensure that criminal defendants receive a fair trial and are not victims of emotionalism or fear. In the U.S., viewers often see interviews with case participants, who are placing their self-serving interpretation of events before the public as fact. This enables accusers to perfect their story while not under oath and to bias public opinion against a defendant who typically is under legal advice not to speak publicly.

The Courts have carefully evaluated the press’s First Amendment rights against the defendants Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. In doing so, the Court takes judicial notice of the directives to trial courts set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Sheppard v. Maxwell.

On July 4, 1954, Marilyn Sheppard, 31 years old, four months pregnant, and the wife of Dr. Samuel Sheppard (a respected Ohio surgeon) was brutally murdered in their home in Bay Village, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. Dr. Sheppard was the key suspect from the outset. He was arrested on murder charges, July 30 and indicted August 17. His trial started on October 18, 1954 and concluded with his conviction December 21, 1954. (United States Supreme Court, No. 490, 384 U.S. 333). Noting that although freedom of expression should be given great latitude, the Court held that it must not be so broad as to divert the trial away from its primary purpose: adjudicating both criminal and civil matters in an objective, calm, and solemn courtroom setting. Not in this trial case.

This lurid case had everything in excess: a host of blood, adultery, possible rape,...
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