Contemporary scholarship illustrates the law’s increasingly powerful role in American life; legal education, in turn, has focused on the problems and techniques of communication. This book addresses these interests through critical study of eight popular trials: the 17th-century trial of Dr. Henry Sacheverell, and the 20th-century trials of Scopes, the Rosenbergs, the Chicago Seven, the Catonsville Nine, John Hinckley, Claus von Bulow, and San Diego Mayor Larry Hedgecock. Such trials spark major public debates, become symbols of public life, and legitimize particular beliefs and institutions. Despite high visibility and drama, however, the popular trial has not received sufficient study as persuasive event. Lying at the intersection of the institutional practices of law and the mass media, the popular trial has confounded study according to the conventional assumptions of scholarship in both law and communication studies.
This volume defines popular trials as a genre of public communication, a genre that includes trials unusually prominent within public discourse. Further, popular trials are often characterize by special media presentations through televised coverage of the trial itself and news analysis, intense audience identification with the principal actors, and political and social consequences independent of the legal action. The essays in this volume stress the rhetorical functions of popular trials. Contributors in addition to the editor include Lawrance M. Bernabo, Barry Brummett, Celeste Michelle Condit, Juliet Dee, Susan J. Drucker, J. Justin Gustainis, Janice Platt Hunold, William Lewis, John Louis Lucaites, and Larry A. Williamson.