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Frontline cannot tape jury deliberations, appeals court rules

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Frontline cannot tape jury deliberations, appeals court rules

  • PBS’ “Frontline” got the go-ahead to videotape the entire trial — including jury deliberations — of a 17-year-old murder defendant for a documentary, but a court of appeals ruled that videotaping juries is prohibited in Texas.

Feb. 18, 2003 — After initially getting the go ahead from the trial judge, “Frontline” will not be able to videotape the jury in an upcoming capital murder trial. A divided Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday that the Code of Criminal Procedure “clearly and indisputably” prohibits the videotaping of jury deliberations.

Judge Ted Poe had granted approval to PBS’ “Frontline” to videotape the entire murder trial of 17-year-old Cedric Harrison, saying that it would be educational for the public. Harrison is accused of a fatal shooting in a carjacking June 2, 2002.

But claiming cameras would influence the jury, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal asked the state’s highest criminal court to reverse the judge’s order.

Producers of the show claimed that the documentary would promote understanding of the judicial process. In a brief filed with Poe, “Frontline” lawyers wrote: “Taping the trial would provide a greater understanding of the reality of capital law and the administration of our capital system.”

“As has been said, the chief function of our judicial machinery is to ascertain the truth. The use of television, however, cannot be said to contribute materially to this objective. Rather its use amounts to the injection of an irrelevant factor into court proceedings. In addition experience teaches that there are numerous situations in which it might cause actual unfairness — some so subtle as to defy detection by the accused or control by the judge,” Judge Barbara Hervey wrote in her opinion.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Sharon Keller disagreed that the court rule banned videotaping the jury.

“It is not clear to me from the statutory language whether persons who later view the recorded deliberations can fairly be said to be “with” the jury at the time the jury deliberates, such that the statute may be said to prohibit the procedure proposed here. To hold that the statute proscribes the use of cameras proposed here, a court would have to look beyond the statutory language and construe the statute with the aid of extratextual factors, including the legislative history, the purpose of the statute, and the consequences of a particular construction,” Keller wrote.

“Frontline” previously taped jury deliberations in Wisconsin and Arizona, but this would have been the first capital murder jury to be videotaped.

(Texas v. Harrison) JL

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