Friday, November 2, 2007

Cameras in the Courtroom

Whether or not to place cameras in the courtroom is not a new predicament, but a long-lasting matter that even the justice system continues to waver on. Though all states have a law permitting cameras in at least some of their courtrooms, television cameras continue to be banned in various cases.

As advancing technology fixes some of the old problems(p.12)—big, bulky cameras, long cords, bright lights—advocates of cameras in the courtroom are once again raising the issue. While the opposing side argues that cameras obstruct the defendant’s right to a fair trial, advocates are also utilizing the 6th amendment, claiming that opening the courts and allowing more media access "ensures professionalism by the attorneys and the judge. A camera in the courtroom protects a defendant’s right to a public trial.”(Congressman Poe) Though the media is highly scrutinized for its overexposure of certain cases and turning courtrooms into a circus, they are also responsible for unveiling numerous injustices that have occurred in our judicial system. If it were not for the press, instances such as Jena Six would be not be uncovered until years from now in some law journal and the outcome too late to change. Court TV chief Henry Schlieff believes "There's no reason in this day and age for people to not be eyewitnesses to the judicial branch and its proceedings. The network also argues that electronic journalists using cameras should have the same access as print reporters and by preventing cameras in courtrooms, the judicial system obstructs the 1st amendment because it impedes on both the press’ right to inform the people and the peoples’ rights to attain such information. But even if cameras were allowed in courtrooms, questions of who would be in charge of taping, where to keep the tapes, and when would it be released to the public raise another set of dilemmas.

Challenges to placing cameras in courtrooms center mainly on their ability to distract lawyers and witnesses. Witnesses are vital to most cases and cameras encourage witnesses to alter their testimony and demeanor. They already undergo intense pressure on the stand, whether it’s just telling their side of the story or managing cross examinations, but to add cameras into the mixture takes the intensity to another level. The idea that their testimony not only determines a person’s fate but can also be viewed by possibly millions can cause witnesses to change their demeanor or miscall details. The credibility of a witness in the eyes of the jury depends a great deal on how that witness carries themself and if the witness appears scared or unsure, it can cause the jury to not believe their statement. Or on the other side of the spectrum, witness can also play to the camera. In Paradise Lost, Damien Echols’ at times appears more consumed by impressing the camera than how the jury perceives him. The other fear of bringing cameras into the courtroom is that lawyers will forget their duty to the client and focus more on their image in the press(p 63-64). If nothing else, high-profile cases have proven that it can make or break a lawyer’s career. Tim Sullivan of TV court admits “anytime you put a camera into a situation, it changes that situation…and lawyers may grandstand a little more.” The last major problem is that the media, even when it strives to do so, can never present as much information as it wants to. Many judges and justices fear media soundbites can distort the audience’s perception of proceedings. This is especially vital in appeals and Supreme Court hearings where the justices can question lawyers and the media can easily alter clips to make it appear the judge favors one side over the other.

The issue of bringing cameras into the courtroom has no easy solution of one way or another and no middle ground in sight. In the end, it will depend not only on which side cries injustice louder, but also which voice the public, or in some cases Congress, is more willing to listen to. The opinion of Justice Warren Burger 20 years ago for cameras in courtrooms was “over my dead body”Supreme Court justices are in agreement with his disfavor of cameras in federal and Supreme Court hearings. However, and since then the majority of a bipartisan group of Congressmen are pushing a bill to counter such restrictions. The future of this issue is no longer just a struggle between the press’ right to news and the courts’ right to privacy, but a dilemma of checks and balances between Congress and the Supreme Court.


Arty said...

I agree that this is a huge issue today. The media does skew everything related to the cases they record and present their interpretation to the public, which can easily change the minds or affect the jurors. In this debate, I believe that the impartiality of the jurors and judge should be placed above the right of the media to inform the public. This is not to say that the public should remained uninformed; the film shot of the trials should simply be withheld until the trial is over. This, in my opinion, counterwieghs the pro's of having the media in the courtroom.

Akansha said...

I agree with the fact that this problem has no easy solution. No matter how it is looked at, opponents will always cry out that their constitutional rights are being violated. Personally, I feel that cameras in the courtroom are beneficial. They inform people of the goingson of the US judicial system. Putting constraints on these camera will violate the first amendment rights of freedom of expression and press; however, I still understand the point of view of the other side. I'm sure that, in order to be viewed more favorably by the public, lawyers alter their demeanor in the presence of cameras and witnesses are more likely to change their testimonies when they realize the fact that their testimonies will be nationally broadcasted. Despite these cons of having cameras present in the courtroom, I feel that the media is beneficial in providing the defendant with a fair public trial.

Kelly said...

I agree with your argument, and I understand the media has a great influence on public opinion. This is why I think the media should have to wait until the end of a trial to broadcast it. The public should be informed of what's going on, but I don't think everything should be massly publicized until everything is over, so people can try to stay impartial and focus on doing their job.

C. Ronaldo said...

I completely agree with you. This argument on camera use will continue on for a long time. I am so surprised. I understand both sides and think that they both have important things to say on the topic. Do you think that cmaeras should be allowed in the courtroom? I think that the media should not be allowed in the courtroom just because of the pressure it puts witnesses under and how it can turn the courtroom into in an acting place rather than a place to find the truth. Great topic really interesting.