Congress, Courts Consider Camera Access to Trials

News Media and the Law, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview
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Congress, Courts Consider Camera Access to Trials


Although courts in Nevada, Illinois, and Rhode Island have acted to limit camera access recently, the U.S. Congress is considering a bill that would allow federal district court judges to experiment with camera coverage.

Surprisingly, the Nevada court allowed "two-minute snippets" but barred "gavel-to-gavel" coverage as too disruptive and intrusive, while the Rhode Island decision supported a judge's decision to deny coverage partly because of fears that the media would take short segments out of context.

NEVADA COURT BARS `GAVEL-TO-GAVEL' TRIAL COVERAGE, FINDING IT TOO INTRUSIVE

In mid-February, a state district court judge in Las Vegas decided that the trial of Jeremy Strohmeyer, accused of strangling and sexually assaulting seven-year-old Sherrice Iverson last May, will remain open to the electronic and print media but "gavel-togavel" coverage will not be permitted.

Judge Don Chairez contended that because the CourtTV cable network is not accessible in Clark County, the site of the trial, gavel-to-gavel coverage by the network would not educate the community, which was already served by the local news media.

In denying the CourtTV request for camera access to the entire trial, Chairez asserted that having "a camera in the courtroom with a live feed for the entire trial is far more intrusive than having a reporter quietly taking notes or having cameras take a two-minute snippet of film."

He also noted that one of Strohmeyer's attorneys, Leslie Abramson, is employed by CourtTV. Such a relationship, Chairez ruled, may make her feel "self-conscious" because the network may focus on her more than other trial participants and consequently interfere with Strohmeyer's Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial. (Nevada v. Strohmeyer)

ILLINOIS COURT REJECTS CAMERA PETITION

In late March, the Illinois Supreme Court denied without comment a petition filed in late January by the Illinois Broadcasters Association, the Chicago Headline Club and the Illinois News Broadcasters Association to allow cameras in Illinois trial courts for a one-year trial period. Cameras are currently allowed only in state appellate courts.

The organizations asked the court to approve the experiment in early February. (See Ni'L, Winter 1998) (Petition to VT.R. 1474S)

RHODE ISLAND HIGH COURT FINDS NO RIGHT TO TELEVISED TRIAL

In mid-February, the Rhode Island Supreme Court in Providence unanimously held that a criminal defendant does not have a right to a televised trial.

The appellate panel noted that state court rules prohibit review of the trial justice's decision to prohibit cameras in the courtrooms, and found no "constitutional implications" in the exercise of a justice's discretion.

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