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? Do lawyers and judges dress and act differently when they're infront of a camera? 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.
Spencer Lang of Lancaster, PA asks:Do you believe that the rash of legal shows like the "People's Court" with Ed Koch and "Judge Judy" and other daytime programming which brings high profile attorneys together for yelling matches is the biggest problem that the public must over come to better understand our legal system?
Tim Sullivan, of Court TV responds:
I don't know if it's the biggest problem, but it's one. I don't think thoseshows necessarily do any damage, if viewers understand they're not witnessingan authentic courtroom situation.
One big problem I see that prevents people from understanding the system isthe fact that the media and the system itself -- judges, lawyers, etc -- keepperpetuating myths about the process that only mislead people. These myths arebasically the ideals of justice -- presumption of innocence, reasonable doubt,etc -- that represent goals: they depict the way things would work in an idealdemocratic society. The reality is much less laudable, but lawyers andjournalists insist on portraying the myths as the way things work, rather thanas the ideals they are.
Criminal defense lawyers know, for example, that it's extremely rare for adefendant to truly enjoy a presumption of innocence. Did anybody reallypresume Timothy McVeigh to be innocent? Lawyers also know that many jurorsdon't understand reasonable doubt. Some jurors demand that prosecutors prove acase beyond the shadow of a doubt; other jurors convict people because theyhave a hunch they're guilty, even in cases where there is clearly amplereasonable doubt to acquit.
In the Oklahoma City bombing trials, Judge Richard Matsch did a great job ofexplaining the true meaning of the system's principles. He defined thepresumption of innocence, for example, as a willingness to give the defendantthe benefit of any reasonable doubt about the evidence. And he definedreasonable doubt as the kind of doubt that would make one hesitate to act on avery important decision in his/her personal life.
If lawyers would stop preaching that these myths about the fairness of thesystem exist in reality, and if the media would do a better job of explainingthat these ideals are rarely achieved, perhaps the public would understand thesystem better -- and would not feel so much like the system is a failure.
Law Professor Steven Lubet responds:Sorry, I've never seen either show. Are they really as bad as yousay? At least we don't have "Jerry Springer's Court."