Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Spectacle in Florida

Trey Smith

Back when I was a social worker for the states of Arkansas and Missouri, I frequently appeared in court as a [sort of] expert witness. In some cases -- those involving child abuse investigations -- I was the prosecution's star witness since I was THE child abuse investigator. In other cases, I testified in custody hearings in which the state had been asked by a judge or one of the parties involved to conduct a home study (suitability of a particular family to host a relative child and/or for a potential adoption).

While family (or juvenile) court in many jurisdictions tends to be a lot more informal and relaxed than adult court, it still is a bit nerve-racking sitting up there in the witness box in front of however many people are there as well as withstanding the onslaught of the defense attorney under cross-examination. Testifying in court certainly wasn't something I took lightly.

I know that a lot of people -- my wife included -- are riveted by the televised George Zimmerman trial playing out in a Florida courtroom. I am holding comments about the case itself until after the jury renders its verdict. While I certainly support the notion that trials should be free and open to the public, I am not so keen on the idea that they be televised.  Too often, it turns these trials into spectacles and media circuses.

I worry about how the dynamic of the media's glare impacts the people called to testify.  We live in a world in which media pundits and almost any person with some sort of the access to the internet feels compelled to dissect every word uttered in addition to what the witness may look like or be wearing.  How many average folks desire to be scrutinized in this way?  Not many!  For me, this helps to explain why a lot of people try their darnedest not to get involved in a situation that may lead to such public scrutiny, even when that involvement might have had a positive impact on the situation.

Of course, there are those who go the other way.  They fancy themselves media stars.  They pick out certain things to wear and prep themselves for their 15 minutes of fame!  In other words, their focus is almost solely on themselves and not particularly on the case at hand -- not a good formula when someone's freedom or life is hanging in the balance.

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