‘The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook’ Summary Chapters 10-11

March 16, 2009 at 11:41 am 1 comment

Written By Patrick McCabe

March 16, 2009

Investigating the Judicial System

Investigating the judicial system can be some of the most important an rewarding work a journalist can do. Within the judicial system a reporter has the ability to help change the lives of the accused, whether it is helping an innocent person go free or reveal harsh prison sentences to the public. Investigating the judicial system allows a journalist to expose government corruption and problems within the United States legal system.Top 10

There is a simple method to investigating the judicial system. “The judicial system has clear junctures were documents are produced, decisions are made and rules are sharply defined,” said “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook” author Brant Houston. “At each one of these junctures, there are numerous investigative possibilities and previous stories from which to learn and build new stories.”

Pennsylvania’s The Intelligencer Record wrote a story about four men who were all wrongfully accused of a crime. They all faced consequences due to the crimes they allegedly committed but following further investigation the Montgomery County District Courts office dropped the charges.

In this story reporters had so many options in which direction they could take their story. The judicial system has so many key players that interview possibilities are endless. In this story reporter Anne Freedman interviewed, the district attorney, a defense attorney, assistant public defender and the innocent victims. Each one of these key players gave different insight into the story and the flaws in Montgomery County’s judicial system.

Juvenile cases and family court are governed by their own set of standards. “It’s good to keep an open mind that those cases,” Houston said. “[Juvenile] and family court are often intertwined and that despite the barriers you can get inside both of these systems.” 

The New York Times wrote an article about a 7-year-old  and 8-year-old who were falsely accused of murder. The two spent a month in a detention facility but were later found innocent. The wrongly accused were rewarded $2 million settlement in a lawsuit that asserted the boys had been framed and falsely arrested.

This case exemplifies how the judicial system can be flawed and how juvenile cases are harder to tackle than other judicial hearings.

Investigating Law Enforcement

“In the United States alone. there are about 18,000 local and state law enforcement agencies,” Houston said. “Dozens of federal government law enforcement units, plus thousands of specialized police departments for universities, subway systems, airports, parks and public housing complexes.”

In order for a journalist to properly monitor a police officer and asses whether they are a good officer, a journalist should follow this technique:

  • Observe officers directly
  • Study incident and arrest records and rates
  • Track day-today prevention efforts
  • Know the leaders of the police unit
  • Study budgets and expenditures
  • Read available personal files
  • Check for investigation by Internal Affairs Unit
  • Follow law suits in local courts
  • Check to ensure that the agency has all of the proper accreditations

Every aspect of law should be investigated differently. From the officers to the evidence room, each piece of the law enforcement agency is important to an investigation and should be handled carefully and with great skill.

According to Houston covering law enforcement can be a great challenge for journalists because “each type of crime has different roots, different types of perpetrators and victims and different investigation techniques,” A good investigative journalist will be able to cover all sorts of law enforcement cases and do so with expertise and precision.


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. andersj  |  March 19, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Great breakdown and great graphic, but the graphic should be sized larger to make it readable.

    I love the work you did on this!


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