Ensure Fair Trial In Steubenville

No doubt the trial for two Steubenville High School students accused of raping a Weirton girl will be accompanied by public protests over the way the case has been handled. For months, various aspects of the situation have drawn condemnation from demonstrators who insist law enforcement authorities have dragged their feet in the investigation and should be filing more criminal charges in connection with it.

Assuming no last-minute delays occur – and that is possible because a West Virginia judge has refused to allow three teenagers to be subpoenaed to testify – the trial will begin this morning.

Fortunately in some ways, it will not be a jury trial. Visiting Judge Thomas Lipps will hear testimony and decide whether the two juveniles are guilty.

Still, the trial should not be permitted to become a circus.

No doubt Lipps will maintain decorum inside the courtroom in Steubenville. But outside, the First Amendment guarantees protesters the right to have their concerns heard.

That should not be allowed to develop into harassment of witnesses, law enforcement officials or spectators in the trial. That consideration is especially pertinent in this trial, because of the background of public protests about the case.

Again, the First Amendment provides for freedom of speech. But the Sixth Amendment safeguards the right of all Americans, no matter how controversial their cases, to fair trials. It, too, must be a priority in Steubenville.