Tragedy struck in Indianapolis in late January when a 17-year old allegedly killed six family members–including a 19-year old and her unborn child–during a dispute. The youth has been charged with six counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and carrying a handgun without a license. His 15-year old brother is the sole survivor of the shooting, although he was critically injured. The media is closely tracking the story.
Preparing a defense to murder is never easy, but when the homicide is a high-profile case such as this one, it becomes even more complicated. Murder cases in the spotlight require an especially sensitive approach. To have a fair trial, the criminal defense team must not only mount the best legal defense possible, but it must develop a smart, consistent media strategy. Too many criminal defendants are tried and convicted in the court of public opinion before they even get to trial.
Here are four things a criminal defense attorney must do to ensure that their high-profile client’s reputation and privacy are protected and that they receive a fair trial.
1. Decide on a media strategy
When a criminal defendant is in the limelight, the criminal defense team must create a comprehensive plan for managing the media. The team should have a strategy for staying on top of any news that comes out in the press (including social media) about the client and a plan for managing that message. Sometimes, staying quiet will be the best approach; other times, issuing a short, precisely-worded comment or another countermeasure will be appropriate. Whichever direction the team takes, the plan must be executed with careful forethought. The no statement, wrong statement, or one easily taken out of context can sometimes make matters worse.
2. Ensure that the client adheres to the media strategy
The best media strategies won’t work if the criminal defendant doesn’t stick with the plan. The defense team must repeatedly emphasize to the client to refrain from making their own statements to the press or defending themselves on social media. In fact, the defendant should stay off social media until the legal matter is resolved. The prosecution, the police, and the press will closely watch all media accounts related to the defendant. There’s no doubt that they’ll be eager to use the defendant’s statements against them, whether in the court of law or outside of it.
3. Show a different side of the client
When a client is in the public eye, the defense team must help the public see a different side of the client than that portrayed by the press. Defendants are multi-dimensional humans, with positive and negative characteristics like everyone else. Whenever reasonable, the defense team, possibly with a public relations team, should highlight the client’s positive acts or accomplishments.
4. Decide whether to pursue a gag order
In extremely high-profile cases, it may be appropriate to seek a gag order. A gag order is when a judge prohibits the defendant, prosecution, lawyers, witnesses, jurors, or anyone else associated with the case from discussing it outside of the courtroom, whether orally or in writing. The gag order can be a useful tool for controlling publicity and protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
If you have been arrested, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Call the qualified criminal defense lawyers of Razumich & Associates to learn how to best defend yourself and protect your rights. We are ready to fight for you. Contact us today.