The Drama of Criminal Trials: Dramaturgy and the Voices of the Defendants, the Victims and Justice

By Michael W. Smith.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

From a sociological perspective, and applying the concepts of functionalism, dramaturgy and symbolic interaction, this author analyzes the anatomy of criminal trials as theatre. As competitive performance artists, with the courtroom as there stage, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys use impression management to manipulate popular culture, judges and juries, and ultimately justice. In the United States, there is a strong historical connection between theatre and criminal trials, such as in the Scopes trial, the Nuremberg trials, the black-listing trials of the 1950s, and the unforgettable 1995 O.J. Simpson trial. Through the drama of the criminal trials, truth, justice and injustice may even be revealed. An irony of the United States’ judicial system is that with all the dramatic allegory, myths, rituals and symbols of due process and justice in these criminal trials, all intended to promote equal justice through an adversarial system between prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys, there is the potential that justice will be marginalized and/or denied for the defendants and the victims who all too often have been degraded and estranged by the criminal trial process.

Keywords: Sociology of Art and Society, Dramaturgy, Lawyers as Performance Artists, Justice, Symbolic Interactionism, Structural Functionalism, Criminal Trials, Criminal Trials as Theatre

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.337-350. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.244MB).

Dr. Michael W. Smith

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Saint Anselm College, Malden, MA, USA

Michael W. Smith, Ph.D., J.D. is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hamphsire, USA. He teaches courses in Race & Ethnic Relations, Law & Society, Criminology, and the Sociology of Genocide. Dr. Smith’s research interests include political corruption, political asylum, mandatory deportation of aliens for criminal offenses, constitutional law, and he is currently co-authoring a book on wrongful convictions. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has practiced immigration, civil rights and criminal defense law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Prior to his legal studies, he taught undergradute and graduate school for the University of Maryland-European Division and Boston University’s Overseas program from 1981-1990. During this same period, Dr. Smith was a Clinical Sociologist and International Management Consultant while living in Italy and West Germany.


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