NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · GEORGIA · Broadcasting · Oct. 12, 2005
High court reverses camera ban in murder trial
Oct. 12, 2005 · The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously reversed a trial court that barred a journalist from bringing a still camera into a murder trial.
The decision overturns a ruling by Effingham County Superior Court Judge F. Gates Peed, who refused to allow a Savannah Morning News reporter to take a camera to the trial of DeAnthony Griffin. The ruling comes too late to help the paper since Griffin was found guilty of three murders and sentenced to life in prison in February.
Peed barred cameras because Griffin objected and because a camera in the court would not “increase public access to the court,” he said. Peed also argued that allowing the camera inside would invade jurors’ privacy and the presence of a camera in the small courtroom would be obtrusive and “detract from the ends of justice.”
The state’s high court disagreed. A defendant who objects to cameras on due process grounds “must set forth an adequate ground for denying a request for electronic and photographic coverage and that the record must contain some factual basis supporting that ground,” Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears wrote for the court. “Otherwise, a party, by lodging a simple, unsupported objection to open courtroom proceedings, will control the public’s right of access to those proceedings.”
The court also found that the jury privacy concerns were unfounded, as the reporter had agreed not to photograph the jury and no jurors had objected to cameras. Sears also rejected the trial judge’s claim about openness of the proceedings.
“There is no factual basis to support the trial court’s conclusions that the presence of a still camera would not increase openness of the proceedings,” Sears wrote. “A camera generally will increase the openness of a judicial proceeding, and there is nothing in the record in this case to indicate that the newspaper’s camera would not have done so.”
(Morris Communications, LLC v. Griffin; Media Counsel: David E. Hudson, Hull Towill Norman Barrett & Salley, Augusta, Ga.) — KT