By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
The trial of James Holmes, the Aurora movie theater shooter, is about to get underway in nearby Centennial, Colorado. Assuming the judge holds firm in his "No more delays" stance, jury selection begins on January 20th, with opening statements set for later this Spring. Overlapping the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber, the Holmes trial is still expected to get a substantial share of media attention, particularly based on the scope of the selection (9,000 potential jurors summoned), as well as Judge Carlos Samour's decision to make the process open to the public and the media. That should guarantee that the trial attracts the attention of the same people who have followed previous famous trials, like those of O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector, Casey Anthony, and Jodi Arias.
In a way, that can seem like low culture, similar to rubbernecking at a traffic accident. But I believe that these media-saturated trials aren't just for legal junkies, they should also be for lawyers -- and for anyone else who is looking for a better understanding of popular perceptions of justice. So don't treat watching the trial or following the trial news as a kind of guilty pleasure. Instead look at the trial, as well as the public's discussions about it, as a chance to learn about perceptions of the legal system, about popular moral judgment, and about the variety of persuasive challenges in a legal context. Taking the impending James Holmes trial as an example, I want to dedicate this post to laying out some of the more interesting questions that the public and media are likely to address as the case goes forward.