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Article Title

The Crossover Event from Hell: Evidence, Admissibility, and Truth When Reality Television Meets Criminal Prosecution

Authors

K. L. Renner

Publication Date

11-18-2022

Abstract

Erika Girardi has played many roles: Real Housewives star, pop singer, Broadway performer. But Girardi’s new role as a party in a host of lawsuits related to her husband’s alleged embezzlement of client settlement funds may be her most difficult yet. For years, Girardi and her spending habits were closely documented by television cameras and broadcasted to millions of viewers. When news of Girardi’s legal troubles broke, a question emerged: if Girardi were to face criminal charges in connection with her husband’s misdeeds, would prosecutors be able to use years of footage of Girardi to help their cases?

While evidence rules are lenient as to admissibility, character evidence has always tested the line between the probative and the prejudicial. Unlike other art forms, rap music in particular has presented real problems of character evidence. Prosecutors have used controversial rap lyrics against defendants, in part due to a belief they closely reflect reality. Rightfully, many commentators have critiqued the use of rap lyrics at trial, and this Note applies some of those critiques to the reality television context where reality may be harder to find than one might think.

Particularly, demands from industry players to act certain ways may cause one’s character to change in front of cameras. Moreover, participants on reality television shows may play up a character or take on personae, obfuscating the relationship between real character and reality television character. Finally, the production process itself strongly influences viewer perceptions. Thus, this Note proposes that courts presented with reality television footage should be wary to admit it as character evidence lest the risk of prejudice steal the show.

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