Cameras in Court

Abstract This paper will cover the current issue and controversy of televising the Zacarias Moussaoui federal trial. The trial is the first trial of a suspected terrorist involved with the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks. I intend to show that the decision of U. S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema to ban photographers and Court TV from the proceedings was wrong, based on the constitutional rights of the public and previous statutes. This paper will cover various cases involving televised court proceedings and public opinion concerning the media coverage of criminal trials.

Table of Contents Background4 Cameras in the Court5 Supreme Court6 Cameras Introduced to the Courts8 Justification for Televising Moussaoui9 Summary10 References11 Background On September 11, 2001, perhaps the most vicious assault on the United States was committed in the form of a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. This attack claimed the lives of more than three thousand souls made up of innocent civilians, firefighters, and police officers. The incident involved the highjacking of two civilian airliners and using them as missiles to bring down the Trade Center.

At the time the attacks were taking place in New York, an identical attack was being carried out against the Pentagon. This attack also involved the highjacking of two airliners and using them as missiles. Civilians aboard one airliner intervened, sacrificing their lives and preventing the terrorist from completing their unthinkable attack. The second group of terrorist was successful in their mission and took the lives of over three hundred inside the Pentagon. Muslim extremist belonging to the Al Qaeda terrorist group carried out these attacks.

Usama Bin Laden , the most notorious terrorist and the most wanted man in the world, lead this group. Officials quickly realized that the terrorist involved with the highjackings, whom were all killed in the attack, were only the tip of the iceberg. A massive manhunt and investigation ensued to identify and arrest any accomplices and prevent further terrorist attacks. Zacarias Moussaoui was taken into custody on August 17, 2001 after a Minnesota flight school reported it had suspicions about him because of his insistence on learning how to fly large aircraft, including 747s, despite an apparent lack of skills.

The FBI held Moussaoui in custody on immigration violation charges and questioned him concerning possible terrorist affiliation. Moussaoui refused to cooperate and was in the process of deportation when the attacks took place. After the attacks, the FBI linked Moussaoui to the terrorist network and conspiracy charges were filed citing the nineteen terrorist who died as co-conspirators. Moussaoui became the first person charged in connection to the terrorist attacks and faced the death penalty.

One of the first defense requests in the federal trial of Moussaoui was a request to have his trial televised. Moussaoui’s attorney, Edward MacMahon Jr. , stated, “By televising the proceeding this would add an added level of protection” (for a fair trial) (Associated Press [AP], 2002, 1). U. S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema denied this request and further banned all use of photography in the courtroom. She justified her decision based on the possible interference of an orderly, secure proceeding with the presence of cameras in the courtroom.

She also declared her decision did not violate the constitutional rights of the public or the media (AP, 1). Cameras in the Court Cameras started appearing in the courts around the turn of the century. Published still photographs of trials started appearing in the 1920’s. The first noted broadcast trial was that of Scopes vs. Tennessee, dubbed the “monkey trial”. The defendant, John Thomas Scopes, violated the law against teaching the Theory of Evolution in the Dayton, Tennessee school system. The trial was broadcast over radio, by WGN, and still photography and newsreel were allowed in the court.

The trial had several interferences by the presence of the media, most notably the request of the judge to pose during the trial (Cohn & Dow, 1998, 14). The trial that had the greatest impact on the early opinions of cameras in the courtroom was the famous Lindbergh trial. The judge in this trial, Judge Thomas Trenchard, placed tight restrictions on the trial by limiting camera coverage to four still photographers in the back of the courtroom. Photographs were to be taken only during recesses, before court and after court was adjourned (Cohn & Dow, 1998, 15).

No newsreels were to be allowed in the court. The local Sheriff, John Curtiss, made a behind the scenes gentlemen’s agreement with the newsreel companies allowing two hidden cameras to be placed in the court. The companies were not supposed to release any of the newsreels until the case was over. These cameras were hardly hidden and the lighting in the court had to be enhanced. It was obvious to all that the proceeding was being filmed (Cohn & Dow, 15). The case turned into a media circus and the outcome was highly suspect due to the presence of the media.

Following the Lindbergh trial, the American Bar Association released Canon 35 – “Improper Publicizing of Court Proceedings” in 1937. This rule banned the use of cameras in the courtrooms. Although the canon lacked the force of law, it was adopted by virtually all courts in the land. The Canon was amended in 1952, prohibiting television cameras. Cameras, of any kind, were banned in the courts with few exceptions throughout the United States. Cases were brought before several State Supreme Courts attempting to bring the cameras back into the courts.

The decisions were varied on allowing the cameras in the courts. Colorado was the first to question the enforcement of Canon 35. Justice Moore concluded, “Canon 35 should not be categorically enforced in the state of Colorado” (Cohn & Dow, 1998, 18). He also stated that “televising the courts would help educate the public on the most misunderstood branch of government” (Cohn & Dow, 19). Supreme Court The first case to make it to the U. S. Supreme Court regarding the televising of a court proceeding was Estes vs. Texas. This was a case involving a Texas financier accused of fraud.

The Judge in the case allowed the pre-trial hearing and the trial to be televised. The courtroom was blanketed with cameras and the defendant was found guilty. The case was appealed on the grounds that the cameras had interfered with the case and found its way to the U. S. Supreme Court. The Justices ruled, 5-4, to overturn the conviction based on the interference of cameras in the court. Justice Tom Clark wrote the majority decision conceding that he could not prove empirical evidence that the camera coverage had prejudiced the case against Estes.

However, he declared at length that the mere presence of television cameras had a detrimental psychological impact on the jurors, witnesses, the judge and defendant (Estes vs. Texas, 1965, 551-554). This case ended the debate over cameras in the courtroom at the time. The only hope for the media was an obscure passage in the 158-page decision stating, “Today’s decision is not a blanket constitutional prohibition against the televising of state criminal trials”. The passage further stated, “That when advances in television made it possible to report without the hazards to a fair trial we will have another case” (Cohn & Dow, 1998, 20).

Another damaging blow to the press occurred in 1966. The highly publicized Sam Sheppard case was appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court. The appeal resulted in the reversal of a murder conviction based on the prejudicial atmosphere created by the pre-trial media coverage. It seemed as though cameras were never to make it into the courtrooms after this decision (Cummings, JR. & Wise, 2001, 228). The issue of cameras in the court was revisited in the Supreme Court with the 1979 case of Chandler vs. Florida. This was a case involving two Miami Beach police officers convicted of burglary and other related crimes.

Following the Estes decision, several states instituted pilot programs televising certain cases, Florida was one such state. During the Chandler case, the judge allowed a portion of the prosecution case and closing arguments to be televised. The defense attorney in the Chandler case, Joel Hirschhorn, argued the use of television cameras had denied his clients a fair and impartial trial. The decisions of the Justices in this case were quite different from the Estes decision. In 1981, they declared that the mere presence of a camera does not impair the trial process (Cummings, JR.& Wise, 2001).

The decision was also unanimous unlike the split decision in the Estes case. This ruling paved the way for the introduction of cameras in the courts throughout the United States. Cameras Introduced to the Courts Following the Chandler ruling the ABA issued a new canon in 1982 leaving decision of allowing cameras in the court to the states appellate courts. Currently, 48 states allow camera coverage of most trial proceedings. This, however, had little impact on the federal courts. Cameras remained banned from federal courts until 1991. In 1991, the U.

S. Judicial Conference commissioned a three-year experiment with cameras in civil trials in six federal court districts. The result was a finding that the presence of cameras had little or no effect on court procedure. The conference ignored these findings and renewed the ban on cameras. Many believe this was due to the excesses portrayed in the O. J. Simpson trial. The ban was tested on March 1, 1996 when U. S. District Court Judge Robert J. Ward allowed Court TV to televise a federal case involving the foster care program neglecting the safety of children.

He felt the case was of great public interest and should be televised. Ward opined that the Judicial Conference camera ban did not supplant local federal district rules barring cameras. Implicit in the local rules was judicial discretion to allow cameras (Cohn & Dow, 1998, 116). Two weeks following the decision of Ward the Judicial Conference eased its stance and placed the authority to allow cameras in the court on the 13 federal appellate courts. The decision was a closed-door vote and narrowly won with a 14-12 vote. The first courts to allow cameras were the Second and Ninth.

They were two of the courts involved in the 1991 experiment with cameras, finding no adverse affects. The Supreme Court has continued to ban the use of cameras of any kind in the court. Justice Souter once stated, “The day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body” (Cummings, JR. & Wise, 2001, 228). There have been several arguments put forward for the ban. They range from maintaining anonymity to the lack of public interest. Justice O’Conner recently conceded, “That eventually we will see cameras in the courtroom” (Cohn & Dow, 1998, 121).

As time goes by and technology advances the views of the Supreme Court on the presence of cameras will likely ease and we will see some form of media presence. Justification for Televising Moussaoui There are several reasons the federal case of Zacarias Moussaoui should be televised. The first and most important are the first and sixth amendments of the U. S. Constitution. The first amendment clearly states, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” and the sixth amendment clearly states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.

These two basic rights combined make it obvious that the press should be allowed in the courtroom. Furthermore, they should have every tool available to provide maximum coverage to the public. The Constitution does not state in what capacity or what tools the press may use in their stated freedoms. The Constitution also does not state that the right to a public trial will be limited as to how public it will be to the judge’s discretion. The last justification I will offer for the televising of the trial is the healing of Americans from the brutal attacks.

By televising this trial all Americans will see the justice system in work and the closure of at least a small part of the ordeal Americans are facing. Whether the verdict is guilty or innocent, the American public will have seen the trial and hopefully have a little insight as to the reason for the verdict. Summary The debate over the presence of cameras in the court has existed for over 75 years. We have seen the presence of cameras swing from a total ban to an almost total acceptance in the lower courts of the United States.

In recent years the acceptance seems to have picked up in the federal system, leaving the presence of cameras to the discretion of the federal judges. Several experiments have resulted in findings strongly supporting the presence of cameras. There are the obvious cases that will dispute the effectiveness of the courts with the presence of cameras, most notably the O. J. Simpson trial and the Lindbergh trial. I submit that the breakdown of these trials was not due to the presence of the cameras, but to the inability of the officials to contain the cases.

I will further state that these cases support the presence of cameras in the court. If a judge is unable to maintain control of the courtroom proceedings, the public should be alerted. The camera is a perfect tool to alert the public. I feel that the framers of the Constitution were clear in their intent to maintain the most free a press possible. I believed they intended the press to be the quasi police officers of government and would not agree with the restrictions in place today in the federal court system.

The Bill of Rights, specifically the first amendment, place no restrictions on the tools authorized for use by the press. This was done to allow, to the fullest extent possible, the freedom of possibly the most important entity of the pluralistic society we live in, the press. Judge Brinkema should allow this trial to be televised. The public has a right to witness this trial and the defendant has already expressed his wishes to have his trial made public via the television medium. Although the crime he is accused of is unthinkable, this does not negate the rights afforded him under the U.

S. Constitution. References Associated Press (2002, January 18). Judge denies Court TV’s request to televise Moussaoui’s trial. . Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 4, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://interactive. wsj. com/archive/retrieve. cgi? id=sb1011394319936007480. djm Cohn, M. & Dow, D. (1998). Cameras in the courtroom. Jefferson, N. C. : McFarland & Company, Inc. Cummings, M. C. , JR. , & Wise, D. (2001). Democracy under pressure (9th ed. ). New York: Harcourt College Publishers. Estes vs. Texas (1965). 381 U. S. 532.