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Should cameras be allowed in federal courtrooms?

What do you picture when you think of a courtroom during a trial?

You might think of a high-drama scene from “Law and Order: Criminal Intent.” Or you might think of inky drawings from your local news station’s court artist.

The reality of courtrooms isn’t as intense as the first one – and a lot more three-dimensional than the other – and the federal court system wants to break down this divide between perception and reality. A pilot program, approved by the U.S. Judicial Conference in September, will allow participating federal courts to record civil trials and post them on the Internet.

Judge James Ware in the Northern District of California, which applied to be part of the program, told the San Francisco Chronicle that it would “allow public access to real court proceedings, as opposed to Hollywood’s version.”

Cameras in the courtroom have been a point of controversy for almost 50 years. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1965 case Estes v. Texas that a defendant accused of serially conning farmers had not received a fair trial because of extensive media coverage – multiple cameras, power lines and audio cables were strung all over the courtroom. The court ruled 5-4 that the media circus was distracting to the judges, the jurors and the witnesses – even after the judge ordered the equipment moved to an isolated booth in the back of the courtroom – and its presence adversely affected both testimony and decisions, in that trial as well as trials in general.

This led to a rule at the national level that cameras would not be permitted in federal courtrooms. However, as the 1981 case Chandler v. Florida decided, state courts are free to tackle the issue however they see fit. This means each state has a slightly different rule for courtroom cameras – some leave televised coverage entirely up to the judges. Others allow cameras to record only cases that do not involve sexual abuse or minors – where recording the trials might be considered an invasion of privacy. Some states don’t allow trials to be recorded unless everybody involved consents.

Even with the varied sets of rules, First Amendment advocates say that restrictions on cameras in the courtroom violate the First Amendment guarantee of a free press. Recording trials for the public to see keeps it informed about individual cases, as well as makes it aware of how the justice system works.

Judge Ware agrees with this. But he also understands the need to protect the people in the courtroom who are not spectators.

“We’re trying to accommodate the public’s right to know what’s going on in one of its public institutions,” he told the Chronicle, “but also the parties’ interest in not having the process invade unnecessarily their personal privacy.”

What do you think?

Should federal courts allow cameras in the courtroom? If not, why not? If so, at what level? Should trials be broadcast live? Should they be recorded only if everybody agrees? Is there some compromise that should be allowed? If you were on a jury, would cameras in the courtroom affect your verdict? How important is the public’s right to know what goes on in its courts?
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Comments
1/3/2012
Texas.
Daniel G.
Montgomery High/Metzger
I believe it should be mandatory to have cameras or video cameras in the court room. My reasoning for this it that the cameras/video cameras are to be used as a way of recording the case, and be used as a way of checking back on alibies, emotions, and actions that occurred during the case. This would be used to reassure the jury that the defendant or the plaintiff aren’t changing their alibies or that they are forcing themselves to do a certain action as a way of convincing the jury that they cared about the case or have any emotions for saying that they are trying to play the “I’m sorry and I’m grieving about my actions card”. It could also be a way of covering people’s butts. Say that the defendant said “I want to appeal the court’s decision because I feel I was dealt an unfair trial.” The appellant court could use the last court’s decision as a way of original jurisdiction, thus allowing them to review the case by way of looking at the video/pictures in the court room and also reading the review. Now on the other side of this argument, I would say that the photographers and media should be like the attorneys. They are not allowed to talk about, post anything on a site, or show anyone besides the court reviewing the case at the time, the pictures/videos taken during the hearing of the case, nor should they post or talk about, anything pertaining to the case outside of the courtroom. With pointing all this out, this would help keep evidence inside the court, and keep the defendant’s case out of the public. Now say these photographers were to ‘leak out’ anything about the case to anyone outside of the court, they should be dealt with just like the attorneys would if they were to ‘leak out’ anything about the case.

12/12/2011
westbloomfield
Payton
walnut creek middle school
I think cameras should'nt be allowed in courtrooms because would if the person dont want there bussiness out there in public thats just wrong. If they even did want there business out there still dont nobody need to know what's going on in there life and why this/that happend. They can just go to court and have all the cameras on them and see how much of nothing get solved.

11/1/2011
Watertown, Ma
Samantha Fraser
Mr. Rimas/Watertown High
Courtrooms ruled out decades ago that camera's were not allowed inside the court. I believe camera's could possibly help the outcome of future court cases. The jurors could look back onto the tapes to watch the behavior of the person, to essentially rule out any speculations. The public eye should be able to watch/view any important cases which could effect them. America is a free country, and camera's in a court room is a small problem our country may be facing. It's an easy fix, that could help solve many problems involving the court house.

11/1/2011
Watertown, Ma
Samantha Fraser
Mr. Rimas/Watertown High
Courtrooms ruled out decades ago that camera's were not allowed inside the court. I believe camera's could possibly help the outcome of future court cases. The jurors could look back onto the tapes to watch the behavior of the person, to essentially rule out any speculations. The public eye should be able to watch/view any important cases which could effect them. America is a free country, and camera's in a court room is a small problem our country may be facing. It's an easy fix, that could help solve many problems involving the court house.

5/24/2011
Irving/Texas
Christian Castillo
Bradley/Nimitz
Federal Courts should allow cameras in the courtroom with the consent of all who happen to at be at the court. I do not believe that a camera would affect a juries verdict because the jury is in court for one purpose and that is to decide whether someone is guilty or not guilty. The public should be allowed to know what goes on during a court case.

5/24/2011
Irving/TX
Stephanie S.
Bradley/Nimitz
Federal Courts should allow cameras in the courtrooms but if everybody agrees with it, a lot of things can happen in a courtroom and most of the time are things that can be mistaken for other people and take things the way it was not said. Broadcast should be live if everybody in the courtroom agree with, and know that the case its good for the general public but also it brings some problems with the judges and the people in it, because like I said before people can take things in a bad way and make a huge deal about it if they don't know what its going on and also the judges can act different since they want the public in their side, so, in some cases decisions are going to be taken in a different way that could be very prejudicial for some.

5/24/2011
Irving/ Tx
Demi S
Bradley/ Nimitz High School
Personally, I do not believe having cameras placed in a courtroom is necessary. If a person wishes to know information about what goes on in the courtroom or is interested in a particular case, they may sit in on that specific case- allowing them an even better hands-on experience. It is obvious that with cameras present, the tendency for people to act differently comes naturally. Therefor, I have concluded that placing cameras in a courtroom that will allow the entire world to watch via internet, may indeed affect the verdict or behavior of all participants in the case- a truth that will undoubtedly come unintentionally but naturally to many. Although I do not support placing cameras in court rooms, I do fully understand the importance of the public's right to know what goes on in the courts. Which is why today, the public is not entirely left out due to media coverage and their right to sit in on a case.

5/23/2011
Philadelphia, PA
Kimberly
Mr. Frank/ Northeast High School
Personally, I think there shouldn't be any kind of source connected to the media in a courtroom. Although I enjoy shows such as "Law and Order" and "Cold Case", I would still want to keep what truly goes on in a courtroom a mystery. With that said, no, cameras should not be allowed in a courtroom, even if there is consent from the subjects. A camera would simply take the focus off the actual trial, putting the spotlight instead on the mere idea of the trial and the reactions of the public. Therefore, yes, I do believe that cameras in the courtroom would affect one's verdict in some way--big or small. How could it not? Millions upon millions of people may be watching, and some members of the jury may be compelled to play a part. Remember, this is someone's life. In a courtroom, there is mixed, raw emotions. It is not a television show with actors who walk away unaffected. It's real life. We owe it to the people involved, people who have lost a loved one, who have been severely hurt or raped, or who have been personally affected in some way--large or small, to give them a comfortable level of privacy. Yes, the public does have a right to know what goes on its courts, however, there is no need for the public to see what goes on in a courtroom, all we need to know is guilty or not guilty.

5/23/2011
Irving/Texas
Jacob Q
Bradley/Nimitz
I believe camera should be allowed in federal courts, but only if everyone involves gives consent; even then, they still need to sign a release form in order for their face to show on the video. I add the lass part because if I was being filmed (even with my consent), the peer pressure fomr th eoutside world might change my opinion. Even If I thought a child rapist was innocent, I might still vote guilty because people would see me on the jury and know how the jury voted; and if they voted on a not guilty verdict, then that would put everyone on the jury at risk of harm. However, if the addition of the release forms are implemented, then I would agree with the showing of the videos. Everyone has a right to know what happens within the walls of a courtroom.

5/20/2011
Irving, TX
Mauricio N.
Bradley/ Nimitz
Federal courts should not allow cameras in the courtroom. The cases that are being heard should not leave the courtroom so much that the entire world could watch it via internet. If we allow live broadcasting to take place, the judicial branch would be ruined and the courtrooms would be empty. Interest groups and other protesters would be watching the cases on television instead of actually going to court . In other words, this makes America lazier when it comes to courts. Who knows what might happen next, we might have a decision by the jury over the internet. Courtrooms would be a thing of the past. All of this would also ruin the economy of the people that work in each and every one of the Federal Courts in the United States.

5/17/2011
Montgomery/Texas
Melinda
Metzger/MHS
I think that cameras should be allowed in court rooms. I feel that people should know what's going on and how the court system really works, rather than just hearing about it. If people are uncomfortable, I'd understand, but no matter what, not everyone is happy. Cameras in the court room would prove if the persons get a fair trial or not.

5/16/2011
Sidney,MT
Krissy H
Sidney High School
I belive camera should be allowed in the federal courts, unless there are minors involved. The public has the first amendment right to free press. these recorded trials will keep everyone informed and give a view of how the federal justice system really works, and not the way its portrayed on TV shows.

5/14/2011
Philadelphia
Rana A.
Northeast High School
Federal courts should allow cameras in the court room, but at a level where everyone in that court room feels secure and comfortable. Without that comfort level, the whole room would be filled with some sort of chaos. Broadcasting trials live would have its ups and downs, but all in all people would be able to see the truth unfold in front of their eyes. I don't think there is any compromise that should be allowed because it's up to all the people in the court room to decide if they want the camera or not. Cameras in my courtroom would not affect my verdict if they were placed in the right places. The stress of millions of viewers, if it reached that many, might put some stress on me, but other than that it wouldn't. The public eventually manages to figure out what happens in major cases by the media, but at the end does not really care as days go by. If the public wants to know what happens in a court room, go find out or even search the internet. I'm pretty sure there are sites that explain these sorts of things.

5/13/2011
Irving/Tx
Ashley J
Bradley/Nimitz
I can see some benefits of having cameras in a courtroom, but I can see more serious disadvantages. Although it may be interesting, I think releasing trial information to the general public could be so dangerous. Not to mention cameras, and lights, and other commotion could cause such a large distraction and alter outcomes. Maybe they could be advantageous if there was a way to make them discrete.

5/13/2011
Sidney, MT
landon
SHS
i think that cameras should be allowed in court room. this can allow people an insight on how court cases are run and can increase interest in matters that regard law. regardless, the media will shape the public's knowledge about a case anyways, so i do not think that this abridges the rights of any litigant/defendent.

5/12/2011
Irving, Tx
Baldemar Martinez
Bradley/Nimitz
Many people have similar disputes over recording the governments procedures : Should congress sessions be recorded on video, and should many of the presidents activities be recorded on video. I believe that people should respect the privacy of the Supreme Court and help them be relief of such stress. It does seem like it violets the first amendment but at the same time a person can believe they have the right by the first amendment to record a persons daily procedures, even if they do not accept to be filmed just as the supreme court. At the same time a persons can be most likely bothered when at work, and some one is recording you. I can say I will be disturbed and would not have a fun day.

5/12/2011
Irving, Tx
Kimberly O.
Bradley/Nimitz
I think that federal courts should have cameras, because not everybody can remember everything. If anything happened in a court like a break in or a shooting, the cops would need a video to look over to try to find the criminal. It should be recorded no matter what all the time. If there were cameras in the courtroom and I was in the jury, it would not change my answer at all. I would still say the same thing. The cameras should be like security cameras, not the cameras like for tv. The public can know about the outcome of what goes on in the courts, but it shouldn't be aired on tv.

5/12/2011
Irving/TX
Sharon J.
Bradely/Nimitz
I do not think we should allow cameras in the court room. It could influence someones decision or actions of the Jurors in some way or another. Do you think Judge Judy would act the way she does to the extreme if she didn't have viewers watching? Is it right for Judge Joe Brown to publicize “Bad Boys” or “Bad Girls Week” to gain viewers? Now take that from the civil level to the federal level. What happens when it becomes a murder or rape trial? Wouldn't it become more of a twists and turns drama then a legal procedure?

5/12/2011
Irving, TX
Andrea C
Bradley/Nimitz
In my opinion, having cameras in the courtroom is perfectly fine. Obviously, there should be a few minor limitations with this though. For one, I don't think that highly sensitive cases, like those involving minors, should be broadcast. The presence of cameras should also not be a distraction; we don't want this to turn into a reality show. Cameras should be placed discreetly throughout the courtroom with almost stealth-like camera men. The point of filming these trials is not to entertain, but to inform. Many times there are dozens of misconceptions about court cases because they aren't publicized enough. The American people have the right to see for themselves what really happens behinds those closed doors. All we have to go on at the moment is television and we all know how misleading T.V. dramas can be.

5/9/2011
Irving, TX
Jennifer
Bradley/Nimitz
Naturally, people have a tendency to act a certain way in front of a camera. Now imagine how differently they'd act if they knew thousands of people were watching to see them decide on an important court case. While I understand why cameras would be distracting during a court case, I also understand that there are people outside of the courtroom who may take a great interest in the case. This is why I have concluded that cameras should be allowed into federal courts, so long as all persons involved are in agreement about it. I believe that the public does have a right to know what goes on in some cases because the verdict may be something that affects the public as a whole and not just the people in the courtroom.

5/9/2011
Irving/TX
Mirna L.
Bradley/Nimitz
I feel like there shouldn't be cameras in the court rooms. I don't see a point to publish all civil cases online, if you want to know how a case is going, you can always sit in on a trial or listen to the news, but having cameras in the courtroom will make it very distracting to the judges, jury, witnesses, and all the people that are there. People tend to act differently when there are cameras capturing their every move. Maybe if the whole jury agrees and the judge and everyone else also agree, then it would be acceptable to record trials. But I know that if I was on the jury I would feel uncomfortable knowing that I was being recorded.

5/4/2011
Sidney/MT
Elizabeth
Faulhaber/Sidney High School
I don't think that cameras should be allowed in the courtroom. I think it is distracting for witnesses and judges. I also beleive that if I was on trial I wouldn't want everybody to see it. I think the public can be informed through writing and that should be good enough.

4/28/2011
MT
Kyle
Sidney High School
I believe that this would be a really cool experience, but I don't agree that it should be posted on the internet. It would allow new lawyers to know what to expect and learn a little more on what goes on in a courtroom. It would also help people like me that have never been in a real courtroom or trial before. Yet, I believe that takes away the defendant's freedom of privacy.

Related News
4/27/2011
New proposal for cameras in federal courtrooms
The San Francisco Chronicle

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