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Cameras In The Courtroom

Because of the Lindbergh baby murder trial, photographers and movie cameras were banned in all federal and state courts. The American Bar Association enacted Canon 35 of the Code of Judicial Conduct as it related to the media. In part it read, "The taking of photographs . . . and the broadcasting of court proceedings are calculated to detract from the essential dignity of the proceedings . . . and create misconceptions in the mind of the public and should not be permitted."

The legal community had concluded that cameras were entirely too disruptive to trials. Yet as technology improved over time and cameras became smaller, easier to handle, and less disruptive, the media once again tried to enlarge its scope of trial coverage. As with other major issues of the day, the U.S. Supreme Court had a say in the controversy between the Lawyers and family members often make impassioned pleas to the media, which some worry may taint the jury pool. (AP/Wide World Photos)

rights of the media and the rights of the accused. The case of Estes v. Texas (1965) involved a trial that originally received great publicity because of the defendant's relationship to U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69).

Estes was found guilty of business fraud and sentenced to prison. In the Court's ruling, Justice John Marshall Harlan (1899–1971) declared that televised proceedings in criminal trials of great note created considerable prejudice against the defendants. Harlan believed televised proceedings lacked due process. The following year, in overturning the murder conviction of Ohio physician Sam Sheppard, the Court stated that it was the duty of the presiding judge to prevent press coverage from interfering with court proceedings.

During the 1980s the Supreme Court began allowing more access after media advocates claimed that televising trials would make media representatives strive to be more accurate in their reporting. Other changes in the media brought new issues as well. Cable news stations and the 24-hour news cycle became commonplace and included legal commentators, who were not always accurate and could create false impressions of a trial's proceedings.

The legal community and the media attempted to work together in many respects to bridge the gap between fair trials and the public's right to information regarding trials. Judges are primarily in charge of regulating cameras inside their courts and usually ask jurors to avoid television coverage of their case. No cameras are allowed in federal courts, though oral arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court can be watched on the C-SPAN cable network.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawMedia - History Of The Media And The Courts, Tried In The Media, The Crime Of The Century