Media Impact on Perception of Courts Residents Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Media Impact on Perception of Courts

Residents of the United States have been noted many times for their poor understanding of American history and government. This is, no doubt, connected with the broken public education system at the K-12 levels. Many Americans not understand the political theory behind the U.S. Constitution and the principles of limited government. (Feith, xi). Thus, they cannot grasp the Constitutional principles governing the role of the Judge, the Jury, and the Prosecution in deciding a court case. (Feith, 13).

The lack of education in American Civics renders many people ignorant and impressionable in issues regarding the Court system. These people have unrealistic expectations of the courts and are unsympathetic to the challenges faced by the courts. Thesis: The American media plays a huge role in the perception of Courts as unfair, ineffectual, and unresponsive to citizens. Television programs and film tend to influence Whites regarding the abuses of criminal procedure by criminals, whereas minority groups tend to focus on the unfair outcomes and unequal treatment presented in such media.


A recent study by the U.S. Department of Justice found that there are key differences between African-Americans and Latino-Americans in their perception of the courts. The study measured perception through the respondents' support for the courts, the perceived quality with which courts handle cases, the fairness of court procedures and court outcomes, and the willingness of individuals with recent court experience to return to court on a similar matter in the future. (Rottman, 1).

Generally, respondents with recent court experience tended to have a more negative perception of court fairness, respect, and trustworthiness than those without recent court experience. (4-5). Also, the study found that African-Americans had the least favorable perception of Courts, in all areas. (4). Latino-Americans exhibited a similarly unfavorable perception of courts in the areas of fairness of outcomes and unequal group treatment. However, in the areas of procedural justice and support for the courts, Latino-Americans had a more favorable perception of the courts than even Whites. (5).


News Outlets

Many news outlets focus on the various crimes committed by the rich for sensationalistic reasons, capitalizing on the nation's obvious economic inequities. News outlets often portray rich, powerful, and arrogant defendants represented by elite armies of lawyers, razor sharp and willing to do anything to win. (Ahmed). In these stories, courts are often portrayed as weak and subject to manipulation by lawyers, whose clients get off with a slap on the wrist.

Cop Shows and Films

Movies, such as Dirty Harry, tend to influence the perception of Whites in the area of procedural justice, suggesting that certain Constitutional protections for the accused are abused by criminals and their unethical lawyers. In these plots, the viewer knows the identity of the criminal. (McNeely, 10). Thus, when the police conduct an illegal search, it seems more "acceptable," since guilt has been established in the eyes of the viewer. (McNeely, 10). Thus, when a judge throws out incriminating but illegally obtained-evidence, the viewer might feel that she is putting the interests of the criminal over the interests of the victim and the public.

There have been a number of movies which characterize the criminal justice system as being prejudiced against minorities and women. Films such as A Time to Kill and Justice for All portray heroic attorneys fighting for the little guy against a cruel and imposing court system. Ironically, these movies villainize the court system in order to highlight the heroism of the attorney and the victimization of the falsely accused. Although these movies portray the courts as such merely for dramatic effect, the impression lingers in the mind…

Sources Used in Document:



Television Imagery and Public Knowledge in the United States. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 3(1) (1995) 1-20

Carlson, J.M. (1985). Prime time law enforcement. New York: Praeger.

Rottman, D.B., & National Center for State Courts. (2003). Perceptions of the courts in your community: The influence of experience, race, and ethnicity: executive summary. Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts.

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