Have cameras in the courtroom
undermined the U.S. justice system?
January 20, 1998
in this forum:
Would only allowing trials to be broadcast after the verdict solve the problems? How do legal shows like "The People's Court" affect America's view of its justice system? Why aren't there cameras in the Supreme Court? How does Court TV decide what cases to cover, and how do cameras in the courts affect the careers of lawyers and judges? Additional comments.
November 10, 1997
The "Nanny," Louise Woodward is convicted and then set free.
June 3, 1997
Comparing the OJ Simpson case with the trial of Timothy McVeigh .
February 5, 1997
The civil trial verdict goes against OJ Simpson.
September 3, 1997:
A look at criminal law in France.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of law.
Sara of Roanoke Rapids, NC asks: I noticed that during the Simpson Trial, some TV viewers seem to be more interested in what the attorneys and witnesses were wearing than the trial itself. I am curious as to whether or not people tend to dress and act differently when there is a camera in the courtroom and if so, why and how?
Law Professor Steven Lubet responds:
We can only guess. My guess would be that most lawyers and witnesses still "dress for the jury," since their primary goal is winning the case. Now and then someone might be influenced by the T.V. camera, but it doesn't do you too much good to look good while losing.
Tim Sullivan, of Court TV responds:
In my experience, people don't dress differently, but they do act differently. I doubt, however, that they alter their behavior very much. Lawyers may showboat a little more with a camera present, but it's not going to have much impact on the outcome of a case. Remember, lawyers are peforming for the jury -- they always have and always will; that's their job.
I've heard advocates of cameras in court say the camera does nothing to change the situation. I disagree. Any correspondent/producer who's spent any time in the field with a camera crew will tell you that, anytime you put a camera into a situation, it changes that situation; it simply changes the reality. Sometimes, it has very little effect, sometimes it can have a great effect. I've been in scores of courtroom with camera crews and I believe the impact is not major in most cases. Judges may behave better with a camera there, and lawyers may grandstand a little more, but the outcome is rarely affected.
I do think there's a downside to camers in courts, especially in high-profile cases. That is, the presence of a camera could increase the pressure participants in a trial feel; they may feel, for example, like someone is looking over their shoulders. Of course, someone is -- the public. I believe there is a public interest in cameras being in courtrooms, but I also think the increased pressure they bring to bear can sometimes be detrimental to the process.
Remember, when the Founding Fathers decreed that criminal defendants would get public trials, the purpose was to protect the rights of the accused -- to avoid star chambers, or secret kangaroo courts. The purpose was not to provide a spectacle for the community. I believe that in the vast majority of cases, the camera does no harm. But I can understand there are cases when perhaps camers should not be permitted. As the laws are now written in virtually every state, the trial judge has the discretion to ban cameras if he/she believes they would harm the process. I have no problem with that.