The History of Media Coverage of Criminal Proceedings in the US
The media has an enormous influence over the public and because each channel has its own bias and opinions, media coverage of federal criminal proceedings have been banned since 1964. According to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53, "except as otherwise provided by a statute or these rules, the court must not permit the taking of photographs in the courtroom during judicial proceedings or the broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom."
If the media was allowed to film and then broadcast information about each case and then expand upon it with their own thoughts and opinions, there would be no way for anyone to get a “fair trial by an impartial jury of their peers.” Even with the plethora of coverage a crime story gets, sometimes it is difficult for a court to find unbiased jurors that have not already been convinced of the person’s innocence or guilt because of what they read in the paper or watched on the news.
The Judicial Conference of the United States
In 1972, the Judicial Conference of the United States imposed another ban on "broadcasting, televising, recording, or taking photographs in the courtroom and areas immediately adjacent thereto,” for both civil and criminal cases.
Then, in 1990 the Judicial Conference agreed to a pilot program allowing electronic media in the courtroom in six district courts and two appellate courts for civil cases only. The new rule allowed judges the option of permitting cameras in the courtroom but only for the purposes of:
- For the presentation of evidence;
- For the perpetuation of the record of the proceedings;
- For security purposes;
- For other purposes of judicial administration; or
- In accordance with pilot programs approved by the Judicial Conference of the United States.
The second and ninth circuits for U.S. Courts of Appeals and the U.S. District Courts for the Southern District of Indiana, District of Massachusetts, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern District of New York, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and Western District of Washington all engaged a three-year pilot program starting on July 1, 1991 to allow cameras in the courtroom.
September 1994, Court Administration and Case Management Committee
By September of 1994, the Court Administration and Case Management Committee recommended expanding the program to allow recording equipment in all federal trial and appellate courts. The Judicial Committee reviewed the report and was concerned about evidence that the cameras intimidated jurors and witnesses and denied the request. At the same time they also denied another request to allow cameras in criminal proceedings.
March of 1996, Judicial Committee
In March of 1996, the Judicial Committee passed a rule allowing each appellate court to decide for themselves, if they wanted to allow cameras in the courtroom for purposes of "for the photographing, recording, or broadcasting of appellate arguments." The Second, Third and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided to allow them.
Evaluating the Effect of Cameras in the Courtroom
By September of 2010, the Judicial Committee voted to implement a three-year pilot program to evaluate the effect of cameras in the courtroom of civil cases only. Judges were given the right to choose whether or not to allow electronic media in his or her courtroom. The pilot was to be reviewed by the Federal Judicial Center. These fourteen courts participated in the program: Middle District of Alabama; Northern District of California courts; Southern District of Florida; District of Guam; Northern District of Illinois; Southern District of Iowa; District of Kansas; District of Massachusetts; Eastern District of Missouri; District of Nebraska; Northern District of Ohio; Southern District of Ohio; Western District of Tennessee; and Western District of Washington. The pilot program ran from June 18, 2011 until July 18, 2015.
During their session in March of 2016, the Judicial Conference reviewed the findings from the Committee on Court Administration and Casement Management (CACM). In this report, the council suggested not to make any changes to the cameras in the courtroom policy. However, the Ninth Circuit was allowed to continue the program with the same guidelines and parameters to provide longer-term data. The courts authorized to continue are in California Northern, Washington Western, and Guam.
The Final Thoughts
The final word on the subject and current rule is that “a judge may authorize the broadcasting, televising, recording, or taking photographs in the courtroom and in adjacent areas during investigative, naturalization, or other ceremonial proceedings. A judge may authorize such activities in the courtroom or adjacent areas during other proceedings, or recesses between such other proceedings, only:
- for the presentation of evidence;
- for the perpetuation of the record of the proceedings;
- for security purposes;
- for other purposes of judicial administration;
- for the photographing, recording, or broadcasting of appellate arguments; or
- in accordance with pilot programs approved by the Judicial Conference.”
Furthermore, the rule insists that, “when broadcasting, televising, recording, or photographing in the courtroom or adjacent areas is permitted, a judge should ensure that it is done in a manner that will:
- be consistent with the rights of the parties,
- not unduly distract participants in the proceeding, and
- not otherwise interfere with the administration of justice.”