Court holds cameras should have been allowed at murder trial
TENNESSEE–Television cameras should have been allowed at a January murder trial, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in Nashville ruled in mid-April. Circuit Judge Robert Wedemeyer had banned television cameras from the trial, saying they might endanger trial participants and hamper witness testimony.
The appellate court recognized “a presumption in favor of in- court media coverage of judicial proceedings,” and said that any finding that such coverage should be restricted “must be supported by substantial evidence.” The court said it was unable to find any factual basis for the exclusion of television cameras from the trial proceedings and ordered the lower court either to hold another hearing on the issue, or to open all future proceedings to television coverage.
Wedemeyer’s initial order was entered without a hearing or presentation of any evidence. After the media requested a reconsideration of the order, Wedemeyer granted a motion to hear arguments on coverage. While the media presented its plan for in-court coverage, attorneys for the defendants stated their opposition to camera coverage, arguing it could affect the safety of their clients and witnesses.
The appellate court noted that “absolutely no evidence” was offered that would show that the presence of cameras would “distract participants, create a disturbance, or compromise the safety of anyone.”
After the hearing, Wedemeyer declined to modify his original order, maintaining that the emotionally charged nature of the case and the intense pretrial publicity surrounding it might result in a threat to the safety of witnesses, defendants, family members of the victim, and attorneys.
Tennessee is currently conducting a one-year pilot project which permits television cameras in the courtroom during judicial proceedings and gives the presiding judge the discretion to refuse, limit, terminate, or suspend media coverage under certain circumstances. (Tennessee v. Morrow; Media Counsel: Robb Harvey, Nashville)