The Jodi Arias Sentencing Hearing: Can it Get Any Worse?
Even without television coverage, it is clear that the Jodi Arias sentencing hearing is yet again spinning out of control. It is amazing that Judge Stephens can continue to find new ways in which to bungle a trial. And remember, we are only talking about a sentencing proceeding, not even a criminal trial to determine guilt or innocence.
The Jodi Arias debacle is a textbook example of how NOT to run a judicial proceeding. A trial judge is responsible for managing a criminal trial and sentencing hearing. The trial judge determines how each side should present evidence, argues its case to a jury, and should manage the day-to-day experience and work of the jury.
A trial judge who does not know how to run a trial can undermine the entire credibility and reliability of a judicial proceeding. Judge Sherry Stephens set the bar low in the first trial and now has even lowered the bar in the current sentencing proceeding.
The Jodi Arias defense team apparently requested that the courtroom be closed so that Jodie Arias, the so-called mystery witness could testify without the “prejudice” from the presence of the media. Even assuming that the judge’s decision to bar media coverage of the sentencing hearing was proper, there is no way to justify prohibiting the media from even being in the courtroom during Jodi Arias’ testimony.
Judge Stephens is not the first – and not the only—judge to have handled a high-visibility criminal trial. We have seen examples of other judges who have conducted such proceedings without losing control of the case, without banning the media, and without derailing control of a criminal justice trial. Judge Stephens is hellbent on undermining the current sentencing proceeding.
Judges know when they are making reversible decisions and Judge Stephens had to know she was doing the same in this case. How could she rationally think that she could bar all media coverage of a sentencing hearing?
Our criminal justice system relies on transparency and sunshine as a disinfectant. To exclude the media in the interest of preserving some ability of the defendant to testify without media coverage is nonsensical. Of course, the risk of exposure may increase, but that is the job of a judge and a court to manage the jury and keep them away from any media reports on the issue.
Perhaps more troubling is Judge Stephens’ decision has created the appearance that Jodi Arias and her defense team has been able to manipulate the sentencing hearing. The public has the right to a fair and credible criminal justice system. The defendant has the right to a fair trial – allowing the media to cover the trial and to report on Jodi Arias’ sentencing hearing will not undermine the defendant’s rights..
Judge Stephens has no political or judicial savvy. She demonstrated her inept judicial temperament in the initial trial. She now has reminded everyone of her lackluster talents capabilities.
Unfortunately for everyone, Judge Stephens allows the Arias defense team to delay a sentencing hearing for over a week. She has burdened the Arizona Court of Appeals with an easy call – the media’s right to cover a public criminal trial.
Travis Alexander’s family has suffered again; they have been denied justice before. Judge Stephens, however, found a new way to do so again. For that she deserves every bit of criticism and judicial scrutiny.