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Trial of the century is an idiomatic phrase used to describe certain well-known court cases, especially of the 20th century. It is often used popularly as a rhetorical device to attach importance to a trial and as such is not an objective observation but is the opinion of whoever uses it. As attorney F. Lee Bailey and The Washington Post observed in 1999 on the eve of the closing century:

Calling court cases "the trial of the century" is a traditional bit of American hyperbole, like calling a circus "The Greatest Show on Earth." Nearly every juicy tabloid trial in our history was called the "trial of the century" by somebody. "Every time I turn around, there's a new trial of the century," says defense attorney F. Lee Bailey. "It's a kind of hype," he says. "It's a way of saying, 'This is really fabulous. It's really sensational.' But it doesn't really mean anything."[1]

The first trial to be called the "trial of the century" was in 1907 when Harry K. Thaw was tried for the murder of Stanford White.[1] Irvin S. Cobb, a contemporary reporter, explained why the trial fascinated the country so much:

You see, it had in it wealth, degeneracy, rich old wasters, delectable young chorus girls and adolescent artists' models; the behind-the-scenes of Theatredom and the Underworld, and the Great White Way ... the abnormal pastimes and weird orgies of overly aesthetic artists and jaded debauchees. In the cast of the motley show were Bowery toughs, Harlem gangsters, Tenderloin panderers, Broadway leading men, Fifth Avenue clubmen, Wall Street manipulators, uptown voluptuaries and downtown thugs.[1]

List by legal scholarsEdit

There are countless trials that have been labeled "the trial of the century" by the press; it is beyond the scope of this article to list them here. However, some legal scholars have labeled a few trials as "trials of the century". These cases are useful in this context for listing some of the most important trials, which include:

20th centuryEdit

21st centuryEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "(The Last) Trial of the Century!" by Peter Carlson via The Washington Post, January 4, 1999; Page C01
  2. ^ a b c F. Uelmen, Gerald (July 2001). "Who Is the Lawyer of the Century?" (PDF). International Society of Barristers Quarterly. Ann Arbor, Michigan: International Society of Barristers. 36 (3): 413, 435–437. ISSN 0020-8752. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  3. ^ Davis, John (2004). Sacco and Vanzetti: Rebel Lives. p. 1. ISBN 1-876175-85-0. Within a year it was going to become the 'trial of the century.'
  4. ^ DOUGLAS O. LINDER. "THE LEOPOLD AND LOEB TRIAL: A BRIEF ACCOUNT" Archived 2007-03-15 at the Wayback Machine, Law Faculty, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1997. "..the Leopold and Loeb trial has the elements to justify its billing as the first "trial of the century."
  5. ^ a b c Doug Linder (1999-01-28). "Trial of the Century?". Archived from the original on 2010-03-08. Retrieved 2017-03-15.
  6. ^ "Gloria Vanderbilt Custody Trial: 1934 - "trial Of The Century"". Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  7. ^ Doug Linder. "An Account of the Trial of Richard Hauptmann". Archived from the original on 2009-07-09. Retrieved 2017-03-15.
  8. ^ Ph.D, Frankie Y. Bailey; Ph.D, Steven Chermak (2007-10-30). Crimes and Trials of the Century [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 167. ISBN 9781573569736.
  9. ^ Kanon, Joseph (June 9, 2002). "The Real Trial of the Century". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-13.
  10. ^ a b c d e Michael P. Scharf; Gregory S. McNeal (2006). "Saddam on Trial: Understanding and Debating the Iraqi High Tribunal 229". Case Western Reserve University. Archived from the original on October 26, 2005. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  11. ^ Dershowitz, Alan M. (2004). America on Trial: Inside the Legal Battles That Transformed Our Nation. Grand Central Publishing. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  12. ^ a b Geis, Gilbert; Bienen, Leigh B. (2016). Crimes Of The Century: From Leopold and Loeb to Menendez Brothers. Northeastern University Press. p. 128. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  13. ^ "Vol. 61, No. 8, August, 1975 of American Bar Association Journal on JSTOR". JSTOR i25727270. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-09-26. Retrieved 2013-09-23.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ Carlson, Peter (4 January 1999). " Special Report: Clinton Accused". Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  16. ^ "People's Daily Online - Saddam Hussein to face "trial of the century"". Retrieved 2017-03-15.
  17. ^ Ventre, By Michael. "O.J. case will pale in comparison to Jackson trial". Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  18. ^ Cloud, John (16 June 2011). "How the Casey Anthony Murder Case Became the Social-Media Trial of the Century". Retrieved 15 March 2017 – via
  19. ^ "AP Explains: Catalans appear at 'trial of century' in Spain". Associated Press. 13 February 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  20. ^ "Protests and tight security as Catalan separatists face hefty jail terms in Spain's 'trial of the century'". The Independent. 12 February 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  21. ^ Alexander, Harriet (2 February 2019). "'El Chapo' Guzman facing life as lawyers offer extraordinary capitulation in 'trial of the century'". The Telegraph.

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