How Do I Keep My Criminal Case Out of the Newspaper?

Criminal Case Newspaper | Criminal Charge Publicity

I am often asked how I can keep somebody’s case out of the newspaper.  Unfortunately, under the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution, there is the freedom of the press.  Any criminal type charges, aside from  actions in juvenile court, are open to the public.  The documents themselves are open and available for inspection at the Clerk of Courts’ office, many people access the information from the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Program and the hearings themselves (with rare exceptions) are open to the public.

When our office represents our clients, we have a very firm office policy concerning publicity. We actively try to minimize press coverage on a case.  A blog post by Attorney Greg Petit.  Read more here.

The reason we do this is because it is almost always best for the client to avoid publicity.  While an attorney “flapping their gums” in the press certainly does get the attorney’s name out there and does help the attorney potentially garner more clients, in the end, it is not helpful for the client in the vast majority of the cases.  Furthermore, even if we try to control the press, they can edit a story as they see fit and that editing seems to favor the prosecution in more cases than not.

Talking to the press is a bit like adding logs to a fire.  When someone is charged with a crime, we try to do all we can to minimize press coverage.  This includes how we schedule matters (court dates are less likely to be reported when they happen on Fridays), stretching out the time between court appearances (because the press loses interest in a story when court dates aren’t happening as frequently) and by filing written and well reasoned motions to the court prior to a motion hearing so the amount of discussion on the record is reduced..  In the end, people charged with crimes do not want press coverage concerning their crimes and we do all we can to keep things out of the paper.  While there is no successful way to keep something out of the paper completely, we have found that some of our cases that would have been “high profile” if we had been talking to the press, if things had been happening rapidly, and if we had been making all of our arguments in open court, have found their way to the back page and out of the paper because of careful actions on our part.

Lastly, but not least, is the truism that when a case gets a lot of press, courts are more likely to sentence more heavily than if a case gets very little press.  This is often referred to as the “camera effect”.  In other words, when there are TV cameras or reporters are in the courtroom, judges tend to feel more pressured to show that they are “tough on crime” and sentences seem to get larger when there is more media coverage.  Therefore, keeping our mouths shut, not talking to the press, and not making the case about us does have a beneficial effect on the end product (i.e., the outcome or sentence that a defendant might receive).