Imagine for a moment that O.J. Simpson hadn’t penned a suicide note and hightailed it to the Tijuana border with a passport, a fake beard, and a map of Mexico as newscopters swirled above his head. Or that Susan Smith hadn’t shed crocodile tears on national television while falsely accusing a black man of kidnapping her young sons. Or that Rodney King hadn’t been beaten by officers on a videotape that was soon part of every newscast around the country.
This Bizarro World may be difficult to conjure—say the words “white Bronco” and, 16 years on, people still know what you mean—but sequestered juries, such as the one that decided the case of Casey Anthony, a Florida mother accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter, are routinely asked to discount sometimes ubiquitous pre-trial publicity in high-profile trials. That was hard enough to do in the early 1990s, when tabloid and court programming reigned and CNN replayed such scenes ad nauseam. But it seems impossible today, when nearly everyone comments on the latest news via Facebook and Twitter, and YouTube is a repository for car chases and police beatings. In an age when Google is a verb, and many rely on their phones to wake them up, schedule their lives, and pay their bills, is it still reasonable to expect juries to make decisions in a vacuum?