An empty courtroom
Ceremonial Courtroom, Alfonse D'Amato Courthouse, Central Islip by Douglas Palmer CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In a typical criminal trial, the jury is shown pictures or videos of the crime scene as evidence. When photos or videos do not provide enough information for the jury to make their decision, a judge can grant a “jury view.” This allows juries to go to the scene of the crime and examine the area for themselves. Recently, the judge in the ex-NFL player Aaron Hernandez’s murder trial granted a jury view.

Jury views are very rare in murder trials. The judge has to approve the request based on “informed discretion,” and whether it would be helpful to jury’s ability to make an informed decision. Hernandez’s house will be left untouched, trophy cases and all. The prosecution calls this manipulation, an attempt to impress the jury with fame and awards to skew their judgement. The defense says that is not the case and that the house should be left the exact same way it was when it became a crime scene. However, unusual requests such as jury views are more likely to be entertained in high-profile trials. Relatively unusual requests have been entertained in other murder trials, such as the trials of Jodi Arias or George Zimmerman. If the media is covering a case, a judge is more likely to grant a jury view to ensure that it is apparent to the public that the trial is being conducted fairly with all the evidence.

Should the judge go out of his way on high-profile trials? Does granting a jury view that is atypical skew the public’s understanding of the legal system? Defendants are not granted the right to a jury view – and bussing out juries for every trial would be impractical – so should an exception be made in the case of Aaron Hernandez? Should jury views be allowed at all, especially to places with large displays of the defendant’s awards?