America’s Most Wanted, has been cancelled by the Fox network, will perhaps be best remembered for its dramatic re-enactments of crimes, says Slate. The program didn’t pioneer the technique. When the show came along in 1988, dramatic re-enactments had long been part of the legal and media toolbox. In some Asian countries, including South Korea and Japan, police treat re-enactments like perp walks. Criminals are forced to re-enact their crimes for the cops, who invite the media for maximum humiliation.
In the last 20 years, animation has replaced physical re-enactments in the courtroom. During the O.J. Simpson trial, the prosecution commissioned a detailed 3-D recreation of the murder. Gory details are allowed only to the extent they’re relevant to the case. Some lawyers consider reenactments prejudicial no matter what. Say a jury first watches the prosecution’s fancy 3-D animation of the alleged crime, then hears the defense’s verbal account. “What’s gonna stick in their mind is the snazzy video recreation,” says Mark Godsey, a law professor at the University of Cincinnati and a former federal prosecutor. America’s Most Wanted combined the entertainment and legal value of re-enactments. Its dramatic recreations may have exploited the audience’s emotions, but with the goal of catching the perpetrator. Police and the FBI cooperated in creating the re-enactments, which produced results. “It’s a remarkable record,” President Obama said of the show’s role in apprehending more than 1,000 suspects.