Cameras in the courtroom — Part II
It was noted in the Estes opinion that as of 1965, televising and photographing of criminal trials was allowed in only two states (Texas and Colorado) and then only with restrictions. This also applied to civil cases. The federal courts prohibited it by special rule.
This was as a result of what happened in the 1935 New Jersey trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann who was tried and convicted of kidnapping and murdering the young son of the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife author Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
The scene was described as a “media circus” with numerous photographers taking countless flashbulb pictures of the defendant in and out of the courtroom and a newsreel camera being used to film the trial.
The Estes decision marked the low point for courtroom cameras.
However, things can change and here they did with television and other cameras gradually became smaller, quieter, and less disruptive.
As a result, a number of states began allowing them into their courtrooms.
The constitutionality of this practice was affirmed in the 1981 Supreme Court case of Chandler v Florida, which held that as a result of “evolving technology” courtroom cameras were not automatically a violation of a defendant’s due process rights to a fair trial.
Today, all states allow cameras in one form or another with each state having its own specific conditions.
In Michigan, we have a Supreme Court Administrative Order 1989-1, which allows media filming or broadcasting upon request and subject to limitations, including the number of cameras and locations, prohibiting filming or broadcasting of jurors, and in the court’s discretion, certain witnesses.
The federal courts continue to prohibit the photographing or broadcasting of judicial courtroom proceedings with limited exceptions in two Circuit Courts of Appeals and three District Courts.
However due to the COVID-19 situation, many federal courts have temporarily authorized videoconferencing of selected court cases.
Additionally for the first time in its 230-year history, the Supreme Court is allowing live audio streaming of oral arguments.
It’s fair to say that cameras in the courtroom are here to stay. Some legal commentators say their use very well may be expanded in view of everything that has happened in response to the pandemic. The legal community will be watching with interest.