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Chandler v. Florida - Does The Constitution Forbid Televised Coverage Of Trials?

estes television court opinion

In positioning their case Chandler and Granger relied upon Estes v. Texas. In his opinion, Justice Burger wrote that the appellants had misinterpreted the Court's ruling.

Estes is not to be read as announcing a constitutional rule barring still photographic, radio, and television coverage in all cases and under all circumstances. It does not stand as an absolute ban on state experimentation with an evolving technology, which, in terms of modes of mass communication, was in relative infancy in 1964, and is, even now, in a state of continuing change.

While acknowledging that trials that generated a lot of publicity may infringe upon the defendant's right to a fair trial, Burger concluded that was no reason to ban television coverage of trials.

Dangers lurk in this, as in most experiments, but unless we were to conclude that television coverage under all conditions is prohibited by the Constitution, the states must be free to experiment. We are not empowered by all the Constitution to oversee or harness state procedural experimentation; only when the state action infringes fundamental guarantees are we authorized to intervene. We must assume state courts will be alert to any factors that impair the fundamental rights of the accused.

Justice Stewart while agreeing with the result took issue with the majority's reasoning. Stewart agreed with the appellant's interpretation of Estes v. Texas that it banned all television coverage of criminal trials as unconstitutional, and he concluded that it should be overruled. While the majority opinion recognized that technological advances would make televised trials less intrusive, Stewart argued that even if technological advances made televising trials less physically disruptive that cameras and recording devices by their mere presence make the process impartial.

The Court in Estes found the admittedly unobtrusive presence of television cameras in a criminal trial to be inherently prejudicial, and thus violative of due process of law. Today the Court reaches precisely the opposite conclusion. I have no great trouble in agreeing with the Court today, but I would acknowledge our square departure from precedent.

Justice White wrote a separate opinion that agreed with the majority's ruling, but also took exception to the reasoning. He thought that Estes should be overturned.

Although the Court's opinion today contends that it is consistent with Estes, I believe that it effectively eviscerates Estes. The Florida rule has no exception for the sensational or widely publicized case. Absent a showing of specific prejudice, any kind of case may be televised as long as the rule is otherwise complied with.

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