A Further Perspective

Cameras in the Courtroom

Trials and soap operas are two very different things. It's time to learn the difference.

By 7.19.11

Send to Kindle

I have never had much of an opinion about cameras in the courtroom. On the one hand, I often wish I could see court proceedings without having to waste a day sitting in the courtroom -- especially Supreme Court arguments, which are practically impossible to get into.

But, on the other hand, the Casey Anthony case has made me realize the destructive nature of cameras in the courtroom. For months, Americans sat staring at their TV screens catching snippets of the Anthony trial. They saw only the best highlights from the arguments, the most compelling of the witness testimonies and a host of evidence (only some of which was ever admitted in court and presented to the jury). Then Americans sat in their living rooms, pieced together everything they saw, and convicted Casey Anthony in the court of public opinion.

And maybe she should have been convicted. I don’t know. After all, I've only seen the trial from news clips, too.

But twelve people sat in that courtroom for weeks and listened to every argument and heard every bit of testimony and saw only the admissible evidence. They sat and listened. Then they convened and discussed what they saw, and all of them agreed -- unanimously -- that they could not say beyond a reasonable doubt that Casey Anthony killed her daughter. It's pretty hard to get twelve people to agree on anything, but in this case they were all certain. They did not have enough evidence to convict Casey Anthony, even of manslaughter.

Now Americans are outraged at the jurors, as if from these news clips -- and the news commentary that inevitably goes with it -- they somehow know more about the case than any of the twelve who sat through the whole trial. The news media makes money by selling a story, captivating an audience, and triggering their emotions. A trial decides a person's fate and, in this case, their life.

Now we're all concerned that Casey Anthony, who very well may actually be guilty, will make money off the case. And it is almost universally agreed that she shouldn't.

But in order to make money off of her newfound fame, someone has to spend the money. Lots of people have to spend the money. People have to buy her book or watch her interviews.

But without cameras in the courtroom, most people wouldn't even recognize her if they passed her on the street. She would have no fame to sell.

If we had instead seen courtroom sketches instead of live video, we wouldn't be so captivated and she wouldn't be so famous or recognizable. It still might have been a well-known story, but it's hard to get so engaged when you're looking at sketches. Why were we so engrossed by the Casey Anthony trial? Live television.

There are certainly merits to having cameras in the courtroom. But it also merits some thought on who really benefits from them. If we are simply going to make celebrities out of criminals -- or even out of lawyers and judges -- then I'm not sure the benefits are really worth it. There may be value in live video feeds, but most of that value can be realized from written articles and courtroom sketches as well.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Russ Ferguson is a lawyer and writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.