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Law Through a Lens

Cameras are not used in the federal system. See Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53, which states, “Except as otherwise provided by a statue or these rules, the court must not permit the taking of photographs in the courtroom during judicial proceedings or the broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom.”

There has, of course, been a push by the media against the federal ban. Valuable and potentially profitable coverage can be gained from capturing court proceedings on camera. I was fascinated by the nightly video wrap-ups of the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. Some people, whether fascinated or not, thought the televised aspect resulted in a circus-like atmosphere. One is left to wonder whether or not a nationwide obsession such as the one that was spawned by the Simpson case strengthens the image of justice or weakens it.

There are those besides journalists and media moguls who believe in the broadcasting of legal cases. Texas Congressman Ted Poe states, “…I actually feel the cameras in the courtroom benefit a defendant. A public trial ensures fairness that is the purpose of a public trial. It ensures professionalism by the lawyers and the judge, and a camera in the courtroom projects the defendant’s right to a public trial.” Poe’s sentiments are reflected in the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, a bill to permit the broadcasting of U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals proceedings. This bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009 after being introduced for the first time in 2005. Many, however, remain adamant that a camera has no place in a courtroom, with retired Associate Justice David Souter saying, “The day you see a camera come into our courtroom it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

My opinion is that having a camera in the courtroom is consistent with the openness of the American civil and criminal justice system.

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