The Modern Penny Dreadful: Public Prosecution and Crime Victim Privacy in a Digital Age

39 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2017 Last revised: 4 Dec 2017

See all articles by Jennifer A. Brobst

Jennifer A. Brobst

Southern Illinois University School of Law

Date Written: December 1, 2017


When the criminal justice system creates a digital public record of alleged abuses, it may aggravate invasions of privacy for crime victims indefinitely. A public trial and digital public record may be even more intimidating for certain victims, such as cybercrime victims, whose loss of privacy constitutes the gravamen of the harm. Courtroom policies are expanding traditional pre-digital approaches to protect the safety and privacy interests of crime victim witnesses, such as Jane Doe pseudonyms for witnesses and recording restrictions on electronic devices in court. Statutory privacy protections in the form of public records exceptions for certain evidence have also emerged and adapted to a Digital Age. Both approaches face constitutional challenges by the media and others in the interests of First Amendment rights and the right to a fair and public trial for defendants. This tension and balance of interests is examined, addressing the court's evolving recognition of the dangers and disincentives of a public trial for vulnerable litigants and witnesses, as well as the inappropriate use of the courtroom public record as a modern penny dreadful for entertainment purposes.

Keywords: privacy, 1st Amendment, media, crime victims, cybercrime, public records, courtroom, internet, Digital Age

Suggested Citation

Brobst, Jennifer A., The Modern Penny Dreadful: Public Prosecution and Crime Victim Privacy in a Digital Age (December 1, 2017). 96 Neb. L. Rev. 281 (2017), Available at SSRN:

Jennifer A. Brobst (Contact Author)

Southern Illinois University School of Law ( email )

1150 Douglas Drive
Carbondale, IL 62901-6804
United States
(618) 453-8702 (Phone)


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