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Question of the day

Monday, Feb 27, 2012

* The setup

A judge in northwestern Illinois said Friday he will allow camera coverage at the second trial of a man accused of killing eight people in two states.

In doing so, Judge Jeffery O’Connor rejected arguments from both prosecutors and the defense that media scrutiny would make it impossible to pick an impartial jury in a third trial for Nicholas Sheley. […]

O’Connor’s decision to allow cameras whenever it the trial starts means it will, after all, be the first big test of the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent decision to experiment with cameras in state courts. The high court said that if all goes well, it would eventually pull Illinois from of the group of 14 states that still ban extensive media access in courts.

The Whiteside County judge told attorneys that Sheley’s case has already garnered so much attention since his alleged killing spree in Illinois and Missouri over several days in June 2008, so any level of media attention now wouldn’t make it any harder to pick a jury.

* The Question: Do you agree with cameras in courtrooms even if prosecution and defense attorneys object? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Honestly - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:18 am:

    It is appropriate for any public proceeding.

  2. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:21 am:

    Yes. Trials are open to the public, just like city council and school board meetings (and you’ll be just as bored at all three). There’s no reason not expand access with cameras.

    The argument against cameras was that prosecutors and defense attorneys would play to the cameras. Well, they already play to the juries and even judges with some of the most overwrought bad acting anywhere (is there a course for bad acting in law school?).

    As far as an impartial jury, that dog doesn’t hunt in small counties, anway. Everyone’s aware of the serial killer who was on the loose.

  3. - Very Anon - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:23 am:

    Disagree. I’m not wild about cameras in the courtrooms even if the parties are enthusiastic about the idea. The bases of my various objections can be summed up in just two initials: O.J.

    Judges already mug shamelessly for court watchers — and more understandably for school groups. A TV camera is simply not the electronic equivalent of a person slipping quietly into the back row of the courtroom to listen to the testimony for awhile. Can it become so? Perhaps.

    But, even if it is possible, we will have to live through the transition first.

    I realize the Supreme Court has spoken and we must go along — but I don’t believe we are required to muster phony enthusiasm for this, are we?

  4. - Spring - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:36 am:

    I think it will be even more difficult to bring in witnesses and victims from high violence areas. Stop snitching and all.

  5. - Elo Kiddies - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:53 am:

    “The argument against cameras was that prosecutors and defense attorneys would play to the cameras.”

    I think the concern is that witnesses, victims, and others called to court will feel intimidated by cameras. If you’ve never been “on-camera” it does change how you conduct yourself.

    It may be appropriate to have cameras in the courtroom, but this murder trial may not be the best test case.

  6. - Colossus - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:55 am:

    It’s a public proceeding, it should be viewable by the public.

    I’m sensitive to Very Anon’s mention of the transition period - it won’t be fun, but the world moves on. You can’t hide your head in the sand and pretend it’s the 18th century anymore. I think the Tea Party has done an excellent job of raising awareness about how times are changing.

  7. - East Sider - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 10:59 am:

    I think it may cause some witnesses to become reluctant to testify.

  8. - Dirty Red - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:10 am:

    This could be a great way to show people how trials actually work instead of just leaving them to get it from CSI-like shows.

  9. - Plutocrat03 - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:16 am:

    I side with cameras in court under a couple conditions.

    The cameras need to be ubiquitous, like the dome security cameras seen everywhere. Secondly the privacy of the jurors should be respected.

    Public proceedings should always be public. However the cameras should not be allowed to become a player in the proceeding

  10. - fed up - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:17 am:

    I like the idea of televising trials but I to think this will make people more reluntant to get involved.

  11. - Irish - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:20 am:

    What is the purpose? To create another reality show? What good comes from having the camera there? Can you write in and have the judge’s ruling challenged? Can you march outside and protest the elimination of evidence? Other than the people involved who needs to watch this? It is a gimmick to get more people to watch the news. It satisfies the need of bored unchallenged people to vicariously add some excitement to their life without actually having to get up from the couch or the bar stool. It satisfies the same need(?) some seem to have to watch car wrecks. They delight in watching the misfortunes of others because they don’t have the gumption to improve their own lives. They are desensitized by the distance, they can watch but don’t have to get involved. Next thing we will allow close up coverage of people being extracated from serious accidents, or televised autopsies.

    “Today on Court TV we have Judge Samuals, represented by the Morris Agency and wearing an Armani robe.” Really?

  12. - amalia - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:20 am:

    if both object, there is a problem. no cameras. that’s why I voted no if one side objects, maybe still a problem. the details on how the cameras work is important. perhaps one feed?

  13. - Skeeter - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:22 am:

    Agree, with limitation. People seem to forget that there are two rights at issue, and we can’t let one destroy the other. We have a right to free press, but we also have a right to fair trials. If trial publicity or cameras interfere with a fair trial, then we need to figure out the trial can be fair and still allow some media coverage.

    We can’t have a hard and fast rule. The judge needs to weigh the arguments.

    That being said, other than reporting on matters that occur outside the presence of the jury, I’m not clear on any circumstance where simply televising a trial would lead to an unfair result.

  14. - Cindy Lou - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:27 am:

    I agreed. I also agree with Plutocrato3 above. Juries do not have to necessarily be shown via the cameras. I don’t really see the need to hide witnesses though…a reporter sees exactly who walk into a courtroom and sits and listens to what is said. I’ll assume if the witness had anything of ‘news’ worthiness to report, it would be done whether a camera was in the courtroom or not, naming exactly who said what. I suppose some restriction requests could be considered if a particular witness really needed privacy/secret.

  15. - Wensicia - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:29 am:

    If it’s possible the cameras could effect the outcome of the trial, lawyers are right in asking they be kept out of the courtroom in certain trials.

  16. - He Makes Ryan Look Like a Saint - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:33 am:

    The Blago trial might have been the most watched trial out there had cameras been in the courtroom.

  17. - reformer - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:42 am:

    Americans are guaranteed “speedy and PUBLIC trial” under the 6th Amendment to the Constitution.

    It’s time that IL courts catch up to the late 20th century when it comes to cameras.

  18. - mokenavince - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:48 am:

    We are hardly trailblazers in allowing cameras,it’s a lot better sketch artists.

  19. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:58 am:

    –I can easily see Vito shaking down a local with ‘let’s watch your brother testify in court.’–

    What does that even mean?

  20. - Foxfire - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 11:58 am:

    I agree that cameras could present problems in selecting a jury; however, trials are open to the public. In addition, the tape can be used to evaluate the actions or behaviors or prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. I say let the cameras role. If there’s a true need to restrict access to the footage, judges can make those decisions on a case-by-case basis.

  21. - Boone Logan Square - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 12:15 pm:

    I’d like to see jury participation rates and demographics compared for states with regularly televised jury trials and those without. Just wondering if giving the public greater access to real trials attracts or repels citizens in the jury pools.

    (If there is a study that has done this, I’d like to read it.)

  22. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 12:19 pm:

    –I’d like to see jury participation rates and demographics compared for states with regularly televised jury trials and those without.–

    I doubt that there are regularly televised trials, anywhere. Who has the resources or would devote broadcast time for that? You might get clips for local news, that’s about it.

  23. - Cal Skinner - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 12:32 pm:

    Maybe both sides have something to hide that the public ought to be able to have a chance to see.

  24. - Kerfuffle - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 12:40 pm:

    Skeeter is right: “We can’t have a hard and fast rule.” The media will only want to film the most salacious cases. In some cases wide viewing of a trial could impact the eventual outcome. When the judge believes that to be a possible outcome of filming, the judge needs to use his/her best judgment as to the use of cameras. We have a right to know but that right is not exclusive.

  25. - girlawyer - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 12:43 pm:

    Of course defendants are entitled to “public” trials. As opposed to closed,secretive trials. But that is a totally different animal than a trial with cameras. Does anyone seriously think that you can put one unobtrusive camera in a courtroom and accurately document a trial? No way. It will either be done with one, unobtrusive camera with will record a fraction of what happens in the courtroom or a long shot which includes much of the room but from one angle and with little detail or you’ll have highly obtrusive camera operators who will capture all of it but not without hugely impacting what they are recording. And then a 10 second selected soundbite will be shown to the masses on TV.

  26. - Ace Matson - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 12:55 pm:

    No. It’s hard enough now to get witnesses to show up and cooperate, and for trial lawyers not to hot-dog. Politically ambitious lawyers will put on a real show. bad idea, but it will happen.

  27. - Retired Non-Union Guy - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 1:26 pm:

    Agree but with possible limitations when children are involved. Note I said children, not minors. I don’t see sheltering teenagers but could see it for younger children. Not sure exactly where I would set the line; some tweens are still kids while others are just as informed as any teenager or adult.

  28. - D.P. Gumby - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 1:27 pm:

    I have long opposed cameras in the trial courts because the broadcast media is irresponsible in their coverage of trial proceedings. The crocodile tears that the broadcasters are prohibited from using their tools really means they don’t get to show pix of the most sensationalist aspects of a trial for the purposes of inflaming the viewing audience. When you watch the coverage of any trial by broadcast media, the coverage is much more informative w/ artist renderings where the reporter has to actually explain the proceedings like a print journalist rather than just showing video of a witness crying or being ambushed or something else that is generally legally insignificant, but makes “good TV”. While certainly gavel to gavel coverage has provided public education, but very few members of the public actually watch. The “if it bleeds it leads” theory of news will bleed (pun intended) into trial coverage as well. As a further note, look at the failure to seriously use camera feeds from the appellate/supreme court–”too boring”. Most of trials are also boring, especially the most significant parts. So I dread the dramatic drivel that broadcast media will pick to broadcast.

  29. - And I Approved This Message - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 2:56 pm:

    For years, Court TV (which I don’t think exists anymore) covered high profile cases in states that allowed cameras. I don’t think they ever showed the juries. It might have been one of the conditions for allowing them in. So I don’t think it would have a bearing on jury selection. Witnesses are a different story.

  30. - Ray del Camino - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 3:03 pm:

    Public ≠ televised. Lots of reasons to be against cameras in the court room, but especially so if both parties object. Good arguments “against” are well outlined above.

    The public and the reporters, their Fourth-Estate representatives, already have free and easy access to trials. That doesn’t mean there’s a “right” to have it televised.

  31. - A modest proposal - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 3:40 pm:

    If both say no, then what does the judge have in front of him to say yes to?

  32. - A modest proposal - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 3:42 pm:

    I’m not allowed to have my cell phone on in a court room why should someone else be able to bring a video camera?

  33. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 3:43 pm:

    –If both say no, then what does the judge have in front of him to say yes to?–

    I think it’s a nameplate on the bench that says “Judge.” A judge doesn’t work for the lawyers, hopefully.

  34. - Tommydanger - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 4:34 pm:

    Survivors of sexual assaults and victims of domestic violence are understandably reluctant to testify at times. Bringing cameras into the courtroom will only exacerbate their reluctance.

  35. - downstate commissioner - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 4:56 pm:

    I disagreed in the vote, but the idea of cameras in the courtroom is okay with me-don’t have a problem with open trials (would have loved to seen Blago)-but this doesn’t sound like the best case to start it with. If BOTH prosecution and defense are opposed to it for a trial, then maybe, probably they shouldn’t be allowed in.

  36. - Joltin' Joe - Monday, Feb 27, 12 @ 8:04 pm:

    The Illinois Supreme Court’s policy on cameras is formulated to give the trial judge an enormous amount of discretion. If allowing cameras truly puts at risk the guarantees of a fair trial, the trial judge should refuse them. In the Sheley case, the prosecutor objected because he thought cameras in the upcoming trial would interfere with jury selection in a subsequent trial involving charges that Sheley allegedly killed four other persons. The trial judge in this case said seating a jury would be difficult with or without cameras. While disallowing objections from the prosecution and defense, the judge said he would rule later on whether to exclude cameras for the testimony of specific witnesses. The prosecutor said five of his witnesses have voiced their objections. The Illinois policy allows no camera coverage of jury selection, the jury or individual jurors. In sex cases, including sexual abuse cases, it allows cameras of a testifying victim only with the victim’s consent. It excludes cameras at evidence suppression hearings, including preliminary hearings where motions to exclude evidence are heard. The policy also excludes coverage of divorce, juvenile, adoption, child custody and other cases which are closed to the media under Illinois law. It presumes that an objection to cameras by undercover police, informants, relocated witnesses and others is valid. The intial order and policy can be read here, keep scrolling after the order:

  37. - JustaJoe - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 8:35 am:

    In a public process, I think transparency trumps the objections.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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