Impact of the Media on the Criminal Justice System – a student review

Published on Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

By Esmeralda Taraj

Judge Martha P. Grace’s lecture on the impact of the media on the criminal justice system concluded the fall Franklin M. Lowe Lecture Series.  Judge Grace (pictured right) is a retired chief justice of the Massachusetts Juvenile Court.  During the lecture, Judge Grace addressed different legal issues, including larceny, assault and battery, and cyber Bullying.

"What is the definition of crime," and "how does an act come to be determined as a crime," were the questions that Judge Grace posed to the audience.

Judge Grace defined crime as a wrong that is committed, and it is the laws, which are made by the people, that determine what is wrong.  She also went on to say that even though crimes against people have been declining, and crimes against property have been on the rise, the media tends to exaggerate crimes. People who read newspapers or watch televised news often do so because they are looking for the sensational, and the media looks to make the news more appealing, Judge Grace said.

With so much experience behind her, Judge Grace admitted that even after 20 years of working in the court system, she was still amazed at the nature of crimes that children were committing. Children have a very unrealistic sense of violence, she said.  The number one reason why children have become more violent over the years, she posited, is the  misinformation that is communicated to them through video games. Having killed someone in a game, they see that same character alive in the next level.

Another major legal issue that Judge Grace discussed was bullying and cyber bullying, which have been all over the news in recent years. These issues have arisen as social networking sites have become more popular, not only with teens but also with adults. 

A well-known case that came to public attention was the suicide of Megan Meier, who was only 13 when she hung herself, after being viciously dumped online by someone she believed to be a 16-year-old boy. In fact, it was the mother of a former friend who was cyber bullying Megan.  In 2006, there were no laws against cyber bullying, and there was not enough proof available to prove that Laurie Drew was pretending to be the 16-year-old boy.  

To this day, many states still don’t have laws about cyber bullying.  One of the issues that comes into play when considering making a law about cyber bullying is that such laws would restrict the freedom of speech.  The question still remains, however, how will the Internet be controlled by laws?