- Report Published -
|Evaluating the Use of Photography and Television During Courtroom Proceedings|
|Cameras and electronic recording devices were first used to cover courtroom proceedings in this country during the 1930's -- with disastrous results. In the aftermath of these initial abuses by the news media, the American Bar Association in 1937 adopted Canon 35 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics which recommended against allowing cameras in courtrooms. Virtually every state, including Virginia, adopted Canon 35 by rule of court or statute following its promulgation.|
The movement to permit camera coverage of the judicial process did not begin to surface again until the mid-1950's. Over the next several decades an ever-increasing number of states rescinded past prohibitions and began experimenting with such coverage.
In 1981, in the case of Chandler v. Florida , 101 S.C.T. 802, the U.S. Supreme Court put to rest arguments that cameras in the courtroom were unconstitutional infringements upon a defendant's right to a fair trial. In that case, the court clearly enunciated the rule that a state can provide for radio, television and still photographic coverage of criminal trials and not, on a per se basis, violate a defendant's constitutional guarantees.
During the same year, the Virginia State Bar commissioned its Public Information Committee and Bar-News Media Committee to study this issue and report their findings to the Bar's governing Council. These reports, which reached opposing conclusions, were presented to the State Bar Council which, in late 1981, adopted the Public Information Committee's recommendation against allowing camera coverage of courtroom proceedings in Virginia.
Encouraged by the Chandler decision, the nationwide movement to open courtrooms to electronic media coverage accelerated. In 1982, the American Bar Association's House of Delegates voted to end their forty-five-year opposition to cameras in the courtroom, bringing the ABA into step with the thirty-eight states already permitting some level of camera coverage of judicial proceedings.
Recognizing this historical trend toward such coverage, the 1982 Session of the General Assembly created this Commission. Under its charter, the Commission was directed to evaluate the experiences of other jurisdictions, make whatever studies, surveys or experiments it deemed necessary, and determine if opening our courtrooms to electronic recording devices would be appropriate for and in the best interests of the Commonwealth.
During the course of its study, the Commission attempted to work closely with and receive input from the statewide bar associations. At the Commission's request, the Virginia State Bar recently reviewed the issue of camera coverage of judicial proceedings. To assist in the review of the current status and most recent analyses of this issue, the Commission turned the bulk of its files over to the State Bar. These various materials included a preliminary staff report with updated figures and status charts; numerous reports, summaries and surveys from other states; copies of rules governing the use of electric recording devices in the courtrooms of several other states; various related articles; and copies of the minutes of all Commissions meetings and public hearings. Thereafter, on October 21 of this year, the State Bar Council adopted a resolution urging the General Assembly to authorize a two-year pilot project to experimentally allow cameras and recording devices into the Commonwealth's courtrooms.