In the highest-profile criminal trial in Minnesota’s history and, arguably, in our nation’s history, the use of cameras to televise the court proceedings went remarkably smoothly.
One of the legacies of the Derek Chauvin trial is that cameras in the courtroom work.
So smoothly that many legal experts are using the trial to argue it’s time to allow cameras in the courtroom on a wider and more consistent basis.
The argument against cameras in the courtroom is that they can be a disruptive presence and change the dynamics of trials in undesirable ways, especially when participants play to the court of public opinion like they did in the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
But that didn’t happen in the Chauvin trial. Judge Peter Cahill maintained order and decorum throughout the trial while the proceedings were livestreamed to an international audience. There wasn’t any showboating by the lawyers.
The cameras provided critical transparency to a nervous nation. They documented proceedings that were fair and impartial, which served to restore trust and confidence in our judicial system.
Chauvin’s trial was the first ever to be broadcast live and in full from a Minnesota courtroom. Like Missouri, audio-visual media coverage of trials is not presumptively allowed in Minnesota. In practice, televised trials are the exception, not the rule.
Judge Cahill authorized the trial to be televised over the objections of the state attorney general who opposed it and argued that TV cameras might lead to witness intimidation and that reporters could instead use overflow facilities to watch the court’s own closed-circuit footage.
Cahill ruled that, given the pandemic, the only way to comply with the First and Sixth Amendments was to allow the trial to be “recorded, broadcast and livestreamed in audio and video.” “The State merely wants a limited audience,” Cahill wrote. “The Court, on the other hand, is concerned that the more the audience is limited, especially in a trial with international interest, the more likely that the constitutional rights associated with a public trial are violated.”
It’s time to rethink cameras in the courtroom. Prior to the pandemic, courts generally allowed members of the public to attend most proceedings. Any person in America can walk into a courtroom and watch a trial or court proceeding, though few actually do. So why can’t we have wider use of cameras? Missouri has allowed cameras and other recordin
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