Media Interviews by the Defendant

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Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator accused of sexually abusing multiple young boys, gave a telephone interview to NBC’s Bob Costas. You can hear the interview here. (Those so inclined can hear Jon Stewart’s take on it here.) Sandusky said that he is innocent of the charges against him and has never had sexual contact with children. He admitted showering with children, horseplay, and other conduct that he regrets. Costas was expecting to interview Sandusky’s attorney and had only 10 to 15 minutes to prepare to question Sandusky himself. Nonetheless, he asked tough questions and confronted Sandusky with the reported evidence against him, leading to some uncomfortable answers, including a very halting negative response to Costas’ question whether he is sexually attracted to young boys.

All of this leads to a question of strategy. Some attorneys view the interview as a mistake — talking heads here describe it as “hard to believe” and “legally insane” — because it locked Sandusky into a particular version of events, allowed the state a preview of his defense, and generated statements that may be used against Sandusky at trial. Joe Amendola, the attorney representing Sandusky (who impregnated a teenage client when he was 49), explained the decision to do the interview as a way to change the momentum and public perception of the case: “[U]p until we went public, individuals were just assuming that what the commonwealth witnesses were saying was true.” In some ways, deciding whether to have a defendant in a high-profile case agree to a media interview is similar to deciding whether to have a client testify at trial: silence may be viewed as an implicit admission of guilt, but speaking out carries tremendous risk.

I’m interested in what our readers think. Some of you are criminal defense attorneys. Those who aren’t, pretend for a moment that you are, and take a moment to answer the following poll question:

Would you let a client in a high-profile case do a media interview?

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2 comments on “Media Interviews by the Defendant

  1. Instead of a media interview, I would issue a statement denying guilt. I would let my client stand beside me but not speak at a press conference. I would answer limited questions. in Sandusky’s case, I would let a wife or girl friend be interviewed, if there was one available. Perhaps a brother or sister.

  2. Every case is different. In this case I wouldn’t, but the way Mark O’Mara had Zimmerman do that interview with Fox News was brilliant. In that case it effectively served as the client’s testimony without having to let him be crossed by the prosecution. Of course it was a huge risk but under those circumstances the defense needed to take risks.

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