Televising local trials

July 13, 2011
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The Casey Anthony trial was broadcast on local stations in Orlando and streamed over the Internet, allowing the general public access to something that typically only a handful could see if they could get a seat in the courtroom. Some stations broadcast the trial over the air while it was happening, and some just did frequent updates and streamed it live online. I assume this case was broadcast and picked up by every local station because of the national attention the case has garnered. (Thanks Nancy Grace).
 
Florida has allowed cameras and recording equipment in its courtrooms for more than two decades. According to The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information,  cameras can't be excluded just because they make participants nervous or self-conscious, but a judge can ban cameras if the person seeking the ban can prove the camera presence would have a "substantial effect" on a trial participant that would be "qualitatively different" from coverage by other media. Criminal defendants have to prove that the cameras would prevent him/her from getting a fair trial.

People watched the trial and formed their own opinions about whether Anthony was guilty of killing her daughter. Perhaps they even formed those opinions before the trial started. But when the verdict came back in Anthony’s favor, some people went crazy. People threatened the jury, even claiming they were killers for not convicting Anthony. News reports say one juror has quit her job and may relocate out of fear. A woman in a different state with the same name of one of the jurors who has spoken publicly has been received threatening calls and messages from people. With the advent of social media, it becomes easier to voice your opinion, find those who are like-minded, and find out information about people. As far as I know, the judge still hasn’t released the names of the jurors. He has said he was waiting in hopes people will calm down before he does.

I am in favor of allowing cameras in the courtroom. Letting people see how trials are conducted can educate people and even prepare those who may find themselves involved in one in the future. If the general public is responsible for electing or retaining a judge, then they should be able to see that judge in action.

If you watch a trial from start to finish, you’ll formulate an opinion. But your opinion doesn’t matter. What matters is the opinion of those 12 jurors (or judge). In this case, the jurors came back after 10 hours and said the prosecution didn’t prove its case on the murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, or aggravated child abuse charges. The jurors only convicted Anthony of four counts of providing false information to law enforcement officers.

The circus that this case became (again, thanks Nancy Grace) has led to people being fearful for doing their civic duty and serving on the jury. This could support the argument that trials should be closed off to cameras, although with social media, there is still a way to disseminate information quickly and to the masses. While I don’t doubt that some people would be as adamant about their opinion on the case without it being broadcast on television, more people were ultimately exposed to the case by showing it on TV – locally and nationally.

What are your thoughts about allowing cameras into the courtroom?

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  • Thanks Nancy Grace!
    I would agree with your premise that cameras in court can be an educational experience for the viewing public. However, Nancy Grace's backseat driving (her allegiance to the prosecutorial side of the bench 100 % of the time is inexcusable and inflammatory, and she is completely unapologetic for her role in making public enemy #1 out of the people who had to actually interpret the evidence and apply the high standard of reasonable doubt...she is a disgrace to the attorney profession, and should be dissbarred, and her so called commentary experts who were all completely wrong about everything are still collecting their checks for fanning the flames of public sentiment)in the Anthony case, and other cases, is proof that when a criminal case becomes a media event, the people who should know to behave responsibly, and who should understand that it is an adversarial process, can't be trusted to behave in any manner other than what serves their own selfish interest. Mr. Baez was a buffoon according to the experts...now he and the Judge are apparently the next people to capitalize on being media stars, weighing offers left and right. Do you honestly think the lawyers in this high profile case acquitted themselves with professional dignity? I certainly don't...I think Mr. Baez and the prosecutor were auditioning to be the next experts/TV stars on Nancy and Greta's shows...Business has been pretty good for people like Geoff Fieger, Mark Geragos, Gloria Allred, all the OJ lawyers, after high profile cases plus TV gigs...some, like Barry Scheck, have done some good things with their notoriety...but most have just gone to the bank, and have not educated the public about much of anything. It is just reality television, and cheaper to produce than even "16 and Pregnant" or "Teen Mom".
    My point is this...most people think the lawyer profession is less than honorable to begin with (a bias that goes back to the biblical times by the way), and no one in the Anthony case provided any evidence to the contrary. Their grandstanding and playing to the cameras was obvious throughout...so while in theory your contention that cameras in the courtroom are potentially educational is valid, in practice I doubt we can trust the particpants to behave with the professionalism the courtroom deserves if a camera is there...they will all be auditioning for their TV Gig or to be the next Judge Judy...most lawyers are good with words, and are actors anyway...they would intuitively understand that the public wants entertainment. How many people do you think are going to come in and watch an exciting Civil Tort, or small claim case? How many folks would watch court in a situation where they televise indigents with public defenders signing their plea bargains...the grist that keeps the judicial mill running? The answer is not many...and that is the reality for 90 plus % of people involved in the criminal justice system. That is the truth, and the Anthony trial is just the latest myth served up by the media, because, as Colonel Jessup says in "A Few Good Men", "You can't handle the truth"...the people who watched wanted Nancy Grace's version of the truth in that case, but they don't really want to know about the judicial system...the parties that watch are not interested in being educated in reality, and the media are interested in ratings and advertizing time sold. Period. Not exactly a fertile environment for "education".

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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