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Camera's in the courtroom although not a new topic still seems to be a topic of hot debate. According to an article entitled, Sotomayor Should Push for Camera's in the Courtroom just published in June of 2009; A federal judicial courtroom is still deciding about the judges discretionary power to allow camera in the court room even in 2009 (Breyer & Hyatt, 2009). This paper will attempt to look at the history of camera's in the courtroom, the pros and the cons of camera's in our courtrooms, famous court room cases watched by america, and the evolution of camera's in our court rooms today.
Camera's first came into play in one of the biggest trials of the 20th century; Bruno Hauptmann for the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's child. This led to the restriction of cameras and ultimately led to new laws being adopted to protect privacy; reporters were not restricted due to the media frenzy that ensued as a result of the the Lindbergh case. In turn, this case led to The American Bar Association recommended, and many states adopted, rules restricting the use of television cameras, still cameras and broadcast recorders and microphones in courtrooms (Prak, M., & Davis, J, p. 2).
Another major move in the history of camera's in the court room came in 1965 from Texas' "In 1965, the United States Supreme Court held that Texas financier Bill Sol Estes had his rights violated by allowing a camera to records his trail (p. 2). This debate would linger for years in which journalists were banned from using cameras, microphones or ever recorders when it came to court proceedings. Another important step forward for camera in the court room is CSPAN was the first ever television station to televise a Supreme Court senate confirmation, the senate confirmation of Sandra O'Connor. This proved to be a historic day as it paved the way for televised court proceeding.
The next big debate for camera's in the courtroom would come in 1981 in the case of Chandler vs. Florida when the idea of cameras had become less foreign and less like an intrusive object into the world of justice, As a result of camera allowed in trials against two Florida men who were accused of burglary both asserted they had been denied a fair trial. The court in the decision of Chandler v. Florida upheld there convictions. The court ruled that both did not have a valid argument that the criminal trial being broadcast after their right to due process. Furthermore the court argued there was no data that proved that the presence of the media affected the process (Prak, M., & Davis, J, p. 2).
As a result of this case you could argue this also paved the way for popularizing and glarorizing televised courtroom programs such as Court TV and many other court room shows that are popular. Although the rules and regulations for camera's in the court room has changed dramatically over the years some principles still stand. Court room cameras are still not allowed in juvenile court proceedings, adoption cases and child custody cases. These types of special hearings are still considered protected from the media's eye.
There are many pro's to allowing a camera to be involved in the court room process. According to the International Debate Education Association; "putting cameras in court will improve public confidence in the judiciary and the system of justice as a whole. It is difficult to see how the public can have confidence in a system that most of them never see" (Weeks, 2000). The article goes on further to report, Weeks goes on further to argue that court preceding especially in other countries deal with the doctrine of president, in essence one case decides the fate of those that follow (Weeks, 2000).
Finally, one of the last arguments for proponents of camera in the court room is that we as a society have certain rights, especially when it comes to public court proceeds. Anyone can attend these proceeding no matter if they are involved in the case or just a citizen who wants to observe. With that in mind how is broadcasting it any different? It is making readily available to individuals who already have the right to view it.
On the opposite side, those opposed to camera's in the court room also have valid points; Weeks states that television and the media is distorted and sensationalized and therefore citizens would not get a great or accurate picture of what is actually going on in the legal proceedings.
The same article also points out yet another reason we as a society should rethink the idea of camera's in the court room;
The system of justice will actually be harmed by televising trials, for two reasons; the effect upon the witnesses and victims of crime, and the possible corruption of the jury and witnesses. Firstly, the prospect that an alleged victim of a crime will have to give evidence in court already deters many from bringing prosecutions. Victims will be much less prepared to give evidence if they know that this painful experience is going to be seen by an audience of millions (Weeks, 2000).
Are we exposing victims and potential witnesses just for the entertainment of those watching? This could essentially skew the trial process all together;
There is a clear tension between the democratic right of the people at large to watch a trial, and the liberty of the defendant in any given case. It is a fundamental precept of many legal systems that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. By showing the defendant on television, the general public will be able to reach conclusions about guilt or innocence that may not be reflected in the final verdict of the jury. People will tend to assume that 'there's no smoke without fire' - although this principle cannot properly be applied to the criminal justice system (Weeks, 2000).
In conclusion, there are many reasons for and against why having cameras in the courtroom is either appropriate or inappropriate. However, at the time it appears cameras are here to stay. One of the most famous cases proves the good and the bad when it comes to cameras in the court room, the case of O.J. Simpson.
Everyone knows the infamous case of O.J. Simpson. According to one source over a one-third of the American Public watched the infamous trial (Jrank.org, 1994). The article goes on to point out an even bigger picture of just how the media covered this trial:
Over two thousand reporters covered the trial, and 80 miles of cable was required to allow nineteen television stations to cover the trial live to 91 percent of the American viewing audience. When the verdict was finally read on October 3, 1995, some 142 million people listened or watched. It seemed the nation stood still, divided along racial lines as to the defendant's guilt or innocence. During and after the trial, over eighty books were published about the event by most everyone involved in the Simpson case (Jrank.org, 1994).
This trail could be labeled as the Trial of the Century in the modern world. One question many have brought up is why? What was the media's fascination with this case or criminal cases in general? According to an article entitled The Public's Fascination with The O.J. Simpson Trial we as a society are voyeurs; According to Lustberg, Americans have always been fascinated with public figures and celebrities. He asserts that as a society who has become increasing engrossed in the lives of other due to all the new technological advances. As a result, the O.J. Simpson story provided people with emotional and physical entertainment. (Lustberg, 1995).
In essence it seems that we as a society will always have a fascination with watching court room drama. Whether real or fake it appears as a society the fascination with media in the Court room is here to stay and might explain why a number of TV shows are popping up involving courts.
One of the most new types of shows are "Judge Shows" The shows that mock legal court proceedings in an effort to get ratings. According to one article:
There is one brand of reality show that seems to succeed where all others have failed. The judge shows that grace morning television all over America have become extremely popular with those who are home to watch them. (Noriega, 2006).
This is the newest adaptation of voyeurism in the court, although most are not set in a real courtroom they mock the essence of the courtroom which obviously appears to America.
In conclusion, it appears America's fascination with media in the Courtroom is here to stay. Although there are many legal issues that still need to be figured out and the rules and regulations are different in every jurisdiction, Media in the Court's is here to stay. Although this issue will probably remain in debate for many years to come one thing is for sure: "Whereas if you have a camera in the courtroom, there's no filtering. What you see is what's there." (ITO, 1995) and that is probably one of the main reasons camera's have been allowed the courtroom. The camera is an unbiased eye that lets the general public see for themselves what actually goes on in the courtroom and make their own conclusions.