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Case Against Cameras in the Courtroom

NCJ Number
Judges Journal Volume: 20 Issue: 1 Dated: (Winter 1981) Pages: 18-21,51
J G Day
Date Published
5 pages
Despite the 1981 Supreme Court ruling in Chandler v. Florida, which allows States to experiment with television broadcast of trials, this article argues that such broadcasts disrupt courtroom proceedings and unduly and subtly influence jurors, witnesses, and courtroom personnel.
The arguments used by the media for allowing television cameras in the courtroom are based on the assumption that such broadcasts would educate and inform the public about the criminal justice system. However, the media interest is mainly in good theatre, and a 2-minute televised news story cannot adequately impart the complexities in many cases. Furthermore, a fragmented version of a trial is apt to persuade the public to take sides on the basis of limited information, and distorted views may lead to unfounded public decisions about the judicial process. Moreover, television cameras in the courtroom would disrupt the proceedings. For example, the wide dissemination of the faces and testimony of witnesses would make them fair game for ridicule and pressure. The recognition that accompanies television exposure may also intrude on jurors' attentiveness and subject them to harassment or coercion. Also, the rule separating witnesses may be impaired when a trial is broadcast, and witnesses may become judges of their own and other witnesses' credibility. Grave constitutional issues may be opened if trials are allowed to be broadcast selectively. For example, disparate treatment may raise an equal protection problem. It would also have to be determined if the broadcast media have a right of access protected by the sixth amendment. The results of a survey taken in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1980 show that the presence of television cameras in the courtrooms have a substantial deleterious influence on participants in trial proceedings. For example, 50 percent of the jurors, 30 percent of the witnesses, and 54 percent of the lawyers have felt distracted by the cameras. Although an open trial is essential to a fair trial, that objective is served adequately by a full transcript, a public presence, and the presence of media representatives in the courtroom. Statistical data and footnotes are included.