Additional questions and comments
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? 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?
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.
Harry Mee of Grants Pass, OR
In the "Nanny" case, the prosecution focused on the fact that Louise behaved much as many teenagers would given the circumstances of being away from home and in a new and exciting culture, while the defense portrayed her as an innocent dupe, and tried to bring up the medical facts of the case.
Under the eye of the TV camera does Justice cast off her blindfold and play to the emotions of the public, or does justice play out this way even in a closed courtroom? Does the adversarial court system negate the concept of cold, reasoned justice?
Jerry Moore of Chicago, Illinois
As a journalist, I find it disturbing to hear legal analysts blame the news industry for a problem in the judicial system. If judges and attorneys feel the need to act up when they see TV cameras, that's their fault. They shouldn't ban some media coverage just because they can't control themselves. Did judges and attorneys ham it up when newspapers first covered high-profile trials before the advent of TV and radio? I have no doubt they did. But would this have justified prohibiting all reporters from doing their jobs? Absolutely not. The answer is not to restrict the free press but rather to make cameras commonplace in as many courtrooms as possible. Once people grow accustomed to their presence, those running the legal proceedings will learn to ignore the cameras and focus on their duties. A democratic society works best when citizens have access to more information, not less. A free press has always been vital to this process.
Ruth Ann Strickland of Boone, North Carolina
Legal matters in the U.S., especially trials, have always been "public matters." The U.S. Constitution states that the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and "public" trial. My question would be: "Is a trial still fair if the public doesn't get involved?" The framers of our Constitution obviously believed that public scrutiny of the trial process worked to the advantage of the defendant--that courtroom actors under public observation would be better prepared, more careful and more likely to accord the defendant all the due process protections afforded under our Constitution. If the public is excluded from courtroom proceedings (because cameras are taken out of courts and because there's not enough courtroom space to accommodate all interested parties), watch out -- the Star Chamber may become fashionable yet again.
Gerald Cooper of Skillman, NJ
Do you believe this hunger by the Public, for courtroom 'drama', is any different than their hunger for it in the Tabloid Press?
And, if there seems to be a connection, can we not see the potential behavioral impact, if we stand back and look at all parties involved in the Princess Diana tragedy? Historically, given the opportunity, substantial numbers of people have always gathered to watch the misfortunes of others unfold. Consider the crowds at the Roman persecution of the Christians or the French beheadings during the Inquisition. "Real Life Drama"! There is always an "Audience" who loves it, regardless of the outcome! Sort of like Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." With no audience, the TV cameras would soon be gone. No audience, No sponsors, No money, No TV!
Paul X. Fox of Cincinnati, Ohio
Prosecutors and defense attorneys ought to be under automatic gag orders, prohibiting public comment on any trial they are currently involved with. There are very sound reasons our judicial system was developed with, and still has, strict rules on what EVIDENCE can and can't be entered into a trial before a jury. These rules are meant to prevent unfounded assertions or wild statements not based upon fact and these rules do not apply to statements made to/in the media, by either the defense or prosecution, before a jury is seated. And make no mistake as to WHO the attorneys are trying to reach with those media statements.
It is not the job of the media to censor these statements, they need to be prevented as a matter of law. I also think prosecutors ought to be prevented from running for any other public office for a period of time, say 10 years, after their term as prosecutor expires. Other than a crooked judge, nothing undermines the legitimacy of our judicial system more than the possibility of a grandstanding prosecutor using the power of the office, unfairly, to further personal political aspirations. The merest hint of this should never be allowed.
David J.W. Vanderhoof of Pembroke, NC
As a former trial attorney [20 years in federal courts dealing with civil rights issues throughout the country] before I became Prof David - I often ponder how I would have "acted" had my trials been on TV. And then reflecting on the sensitivity of some of the issues and the reluctance of some witnesses to testify I wonder how their appearance on the tube would have influenced their decision.
I now teach criminal justice and on a final exam in a Courts course last semester asked the following questions:
Question: 11 Should criminal trials be televised? Should any of the following participants or interested observers have a "veto" [prevent the trial from being televised]; defendant, victim, witness, prosecutor, or the media.
Question: 4 Can public passion taint a justice system that is intended to be impartial?
Omer C Abner of McClellanville, SC
I believe that the administration of justice is just about the most important aspect of a free society. There should be NO distractions in any courtroom. Nothing to detract from the proceedings. The freedom of the press and freedom of speech and the publics right to know are all noble and worthy concepts...but we must set priorities every day of our life where these various liberties conflict.
In a courtroom, where someone's freedom, assets, or even their life is at stake, the complete attention of the judge and jury should always be focused on every nuance of the trial at hand. In capital cases, I believe that a single reporter with an obligation to feed all other news media should be the maximum allowed.
Bev Conover of Silver Springs, Florida
A reading of the Sixth Amendment should be enough to settle this question: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury..."
Courtrooms were once spacious enough to accommodate, in most instances, all members of the public who wished to witness a trial. Since this is no longer the case, what better way to make a trial public than by televising it?
Lillian Adams of Carbondale, Illinois
I believe that cameras in the courtroom subvert a fair trial. I watched just a little of the Simpson case, and I could not see what there was about the case which brought about such involvement. He was a sports hero, and the fact that he was black and the two murdered people were white, made it a case in which people took sides.
However, during the period of the long, long trial several people were murdered in my primarily rural-small town area, under somewhat the same conditions that were alleged in the Simpson trial. Many, many people were killed in auto accidents, some by drunk drivers. They all brought about a half minute on the local tv news, short items in the local paper, and nothing outside the area.
I believe that television makes the news. What is emphasized over and over becomes what every station carries, then the radio and then the newspapers. If it's not on television, it's not news.
Last night I saw "Wag the Dog" and it was frightening how a slick production can make people believe anything. I think it's that way with courtroom trials on television. I think producers, but not reporters, should be banned.
Leo A. Luebbehusen of Hurst, Texas
I am a fifty-one-year-old white male who has voted Republican in every election since I turned twenty-one, except my first (Humphrey over Nixon in '68). I became a lawyer three and one-half years ago. I practice criminal defense law. Two things shock me - the large number of factually innocent defendants who plead guilty or are found guilty, and the amount of police perjury.
If television would force my fellow citizens to see the truth, I support it. All trials should be at least video-taped for later viewing to show the incompetence and preserve the lies.
George McRoberts of Bothell,WA
I enjoy watching Court TV, but I think a delay of the tv transmission until the verdict is announced would be for all parties. Programs like Trial Story are a good approach since they can be condensed and give the whole picture. It also reduces lawyers and others from posing for TV.
Maurice DeAndrade of Westport,MA
Human nature what it is the cameras will cause those involved to take up acting. This is more so if it is a case that draws national attention. I have served on juries in both civil and criminal trials, and find that is the best way to get educated on the court system.
Gerald P. Kreisberg of Clifton Park, NY
I am a retired NY State Supreme court reporter. Though, not a lawyer or a judge, I do have a quasi-judicial view gleaned from 30 years courtroom experience as a court reporter.
My impression on cameras in the courtroom is that they cause the viewing public to be, in most cases, mislead as to what actually happened. What the vast majority of the public sees of an entire day's proceedings is a 30-second TV blurb on the local news, which serves more to distort than to educate. After all, in order to garner ratings, a TV news person will choose to show what is the most sensational and not necessarily what is truly representative of the court day, that is, if a 30-second blurb can serve to educate at all.
It is impossible to make an informed judgment on the guilt or innocence of a defendant without hearing and seeing ALL of the testimony and hearing the charge on the law given by the Court. The current system leads to misunderstandings. Witness the death threats made against a juror who did not vote the death penalty in the Oklahoma bombing case; and also the call by some for a recall of the judge who altered the verdict in the Nanny case.
It might be best to use the British system of no news articles of a trial during the trial. After the trial, of course, the media -- electronic and print -- can and should report on the proceedings.
Fred W. Triem (attorney) of Petersburg, Alaska
Please do not overlook the potential benefits of televising appellate court proceedings. (Underline: "appellate") All of the discussion about courtroom t.v. seems focused on trial courts. But what about appeals!? This is where our law is made -- not in highly publicized criminal trials, but before panels of appellate judges who are not accountable to the American public. The appellate judges who decide, inter alia, First Amendment issues seem to think that the First Amendment does not apply to them, as demonstrated by Justice Souter's quote from his Congressional testimony.
As an aspiring appellate attorney, I could learn a lot and improve my modest skills if I could get a videotape of courtroom proceedings. And I'd be thrilled to watch some of my judicial heros, like Judges Posner and Easterbrook of the 7th Circuit. The American public -- lawyers and laypeople -- would achieve a greater understanding of the Third Branch if we could see how our laws are really made: in the common law system of judge-made law in appellate courts.
Michael Green of Brooklyn, New York
I recently served on a jury for a civil case in Brooklyn, New York. I was very concerned with what I saw.
First the trial took place in a second floor court room into which no uninvited citizen would enter. It was not that it was illegal to enter, but there was no window on the door and the entire atmosphere was not conducive to the public entering. There was no notice of which trial was being conducted or of any schedule.
Second the judge repeatedly gave testimony for the witnesses and then asked them, "Is that what you mean?" He also asked questions for the plaintiffs attorney. He also overruled the questions of the defense attorney for the sake of time even though the attorney was trying to show that a police officer was giving false or misleading testimony.
During deliberations the judge refused to clearly explain to the jury what the state law meant. Insisting on reading it to us in a low monotone voice.
I think there is a problem that the public is not seeing what is going on in our courtrooms. I don't necessary believe that the solution is cameras in a few courtrooms. Maybe a percentage of the jury pool should be used as court observers in every court proceeding. We need someone to be looking at what is going on in low profile cases.
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