Assessing pretrial publicity effects: Integrating content analytic results

Christina A. Studebaker, Jennifer K. Robbennolt, Maithilee K. Pathak-Sharma, Steven D. Penrod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When a case has received pretrial publicity which has the capacity to bias potential jurors in the trial venue, a change of venue is one means of attempting to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial. Content analysis of the pretrial publicity surrounding a case can provide the court with important information to consider when determining whether prejudice in the relevant community is too great for the defendant to receive a fair trial. This paper presents an approach to content analysis of pretrial publicity that draws upon both legal commentary and past empirical social science research. It is a systematic approach that could be employed by both the prosecution and defense when presenting arguments to the court about whether a change of venue should be granted. Information gleaned from content analysis of the publicity surrounding a specific case fills the gap between information provided by experimental research which has examined pretrial publicity effects and public opinion polls concerning the public's perception of the defendant in a particular case. Results from a content analysis can serve to validate public opinion survey data gathered from the same locales. To exemplify this content analytic approach, a content analysis conducted by the authors in preparation for the change of venue hearing in the case of Timothy McVeigh is presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-336
Number of pages20
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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