Cameras are Coming to a Courtroom Near You

Starting November 2015, cameras will be permitted in court during criminal proceedings. To begin with (this is only a pilot project to start), cameras will be allowed into the courtroom during sentencing hearings essentially – i.e. after a guilty verdict has been returned or a guilty plea has been entered. But, this general rule is subject to the following exceptions:

  • No cameras are permitted when a jury is present;
  • No cameras are permitted in any problem-solving court – i.e. DWI Court, Veteran’s Court, drug courts, and mental health courts;
  • No cases are permitted when the case involves crimes of criminal sexual conduct or family or domestic abuse; and
  • Whenever a testifying victim is present, said victim must provide affirmative acknowledge and approval to having their testimony covered – this must be obtained prior to the victim testifying.

In all other proceedings, the court may limit or exclude cameras upon a showing of good cause, which is based on the privacy and safety concerns of the participants in the proceeding or other interested parties, the decorum and dignity of the proceedings, the physical court facilities, and the impartial administration of justice.

As President of the Criminal Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association at the time this pilot project was being considered, Mr. Adkins had the opportunity to testify before the Supreme Court on behalf of the section about the chilling effect this new rule will have on witness testimony critical for a defendant during the sentencing hearing. Likewise, victim advocate group spoke how this will surely further curtail victims in providing important testimony – which only exacerbates the current problem of victims not coming forward after an assault.

The permission of cameras in the court is the absurd result of media corporations claiming they will be utilizing the cameras for education purposes – to make the judicial system more transparent – but, in all actuality, will lead to nothing more than further sensationalizing of news stories. Essentially, the theory of the idea carried the day, while the practicality and the overriding proof of what will happen (think of what you see now from news coverage of trials) is detrimental to the criminal justice system.

For now this is just a pilot project, meaning it may not be permanent. Here’s hoping that’s the case.