Courtroom drama becomes reality TV
Don't roll your eyes if you've heard this one before, but real court dramas are not actually like what we see on TV. They never conclude in a hour for example, or even two. And the dramatic outbursts are rare compared to the tedious courtroom conventions over things such as how evidence will be labelled. That doesn't mean actual court cases can't be really dramatic, or play out on television, at least from some parts of the United States. (You might have noticed Canadian courtrooms do not include television cameras.)
Any journalist who has covered court has witnessed just how bogged down the system can get. Like most things in the world of reporting, there are hours of tedium accented by bursts of high drama. The trick is to remain focused the entire time so as not to miss the important parts. Some of us have been in courtrooms where the judge actually repremands a reporter for falling asleep. Others among us have been reprimanded. If the reporter is any good, the tedious parts will be cast aside and the resulting story will be compelling for the reader.
In some instances, court cases are gripping from beginning to end. The recent case of killer Russell Williams is an example. The former Canadian military commander pleaded guilty to two killings and several sexual assaults. Evidence was read into court and each window into his depraved behaviour was more compelling than the last. In what could become a new standard in Canadian courtrooms, at least if a suspect pleaded guilty, reporters were allowed to send instant text messages of the proceedings from that courtroom, onto live blogs and Twitter. The public could follow as events unfolded.
Right now there are several high-profile court cases in the news, with the pinnacle being that of Michael Jackson's doctor Conrad Murray, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the drug death of the pop star. Thanks to laws in California, that is one of the trials that can be viewed live on television. Even through the tedious bits of legal back and forth, it's compelling and terribly sad. The public is hearing audio of a drug-addled Jackson talking about his upcoming tour, seeing photos of the deceased star and hearing testimony of his personal staff. MSN.ca is streaming the trial, which starts around noon Eastern time, every day. This link will take you there daily.
Canadian courtrooms are not quite as open as some of those in the U.S., so the stories of the high-profile cases playing out in this country right now will have to be told by reporters.
In one case, several members of a Montreal family face first-degree murder charges in the drowning deaths of three sisters and their mother. Their bodies were found in the Rideau Canal near Kingston, Ont., about two years ago. Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yehya and their son Hamid Mohammad Shafia, 20, are accused of killing the couple's three daughters and Mohammad Shafia's first wife. The case is expected to take months and will be especially complicated as it will have to be translated from English to Dari — an Afghan dialect of Persian — and back, so that two of the accused can understand the proceedings.
In Calgary, the case of Dustin Paxton, a Prairie man charged with sexual assault, unlawful confinement and aggravated assault is underway. A publication ban prohibits naming the alleged sexual assault victim and other witnesses that could lead to identifying him.
This leads us to another point in the world of courtroom dramas. You may have noticed that court television and news channel chatter about court cases on U.S. networks is not the same as that in Canada. After the first day of Conrad Murray's trial for example, talking heads gathered on various U.S. networks to discuss his guilt or innocence. Contempt and libel laws in Canada keep pundits from chattering about such subjects in Canadian media, whether on major networks, in blogs or in public comments on stories published on news websites.
A person is considered innocent until proven otherwise in court and anyone who prejudices that can face charges. That should be something worth considering.