Thanks to major news networks and famed author John Grisham, people have become extremely interested in and entertained by the legal process—especially high-profile jury trials. Major news networks are often competing to give their viewers the best seat in the house as these high profile cases unfold. And, what view is better than the view from the jury box?
Throughout history, jurors have tried to make the most of their mandatory civic duty and turn weeks of dreadful jury duty into a profitable business venture. Some of the most high profile cases in recent history have inspired jurors to write books their experience. After the ever-famous O.J. Simpson trial, one juror found himself on the New York Times 1995 paperback best sellers list. According to
New York Magazine, the book sold 350,000 copies and was selling for $5.99 per copy in 1995. If my math is correct, that juror made his jury duty worth approximately $2.1 million by publishing his story.
Following the Casey Anthony Trial, Florida lawmakers attempted to prevent jurors from profiting off of jury duty after jurors reportedly demanded thousands of dollars from major news networks to do post-trial interviews. A Florida Representative and the former attorney of Casey Anthony’s parents submitted a bill that forced jurors to wait 270 days before receiving money for their stories—a so called “cooling-off period.” However, the bill never gained necessary support to become law (the bill likely ran into significant First Amendment opposition).
New York attempted to enact a similar law that prohibited criminals from profiting off of selling stories about the crimes they committed—known as “Son of Sam” laws (named after the Son of Sam killer who took commands to kill from his neighbor's dog). The law completely barred criminals from making any profit whatsoever off selling the stories of their crimes. The United States Supreme Court held New York’s “Son of Sam” law was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment. However, the Supreme Court went on to hold that “Son of Sam” laws could be constitutional if they were drafted narrowly and carefully to comply with the First Amendment.
It might be beneficial to put some type of safeguard in place to prevent jurors from profiting off their stories. Juries are intended to be neutral and unbiased fact-finders. It is difficult for a panel of jurors to be neutral and unbiased when they stand to make millions of dollars off their stories. Any such type of safeguard must be carefully tailored to not infringe on individual’s First Amendment rights. But, as of now, jurors have a considerable incentive to contribute to the drama and excitement of the trial process by whatever means that maximize profit.