MAINE — Cameras in the courtroom are distracting and make witnesses reluctant to testify, Maine’s highest court said earlier this month when it granted cameras limited but permanent access to state trial courts.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an administrative order in mid-July allowing cameras in all state trial courts, but limiting coverage of criminal trials. Cameras are forbidden during criminal trial testimony and certain types of cases, including some involving juveniles.
Under the order, only arraignments, sentencings and other non-testimonial proceedings in criminal cases are open to camera coverage. The order also gives trial judges freedom to bar cameras from civil or criminal proceedings.
“Our shared objective is to preserve the integrity of our system of justice, while at the same time maximizing public access through the media in common use,” the order stated.
The Supreme Judicial Court has allowed camera coverage of its proceedings since 1982. Television and still cameras and microphones had been permitted to record most criminal trials, including testimony, on an experimental basis in Bangor and Portland courts from 1991 through September 1993.
Broadcasters are unhappy with the order because it is more restrictive than the experimental order was, said Jeff Marks, the general manager of WLBZ-TV in Bangor and an organizer of the experiment on behalf of the Maine Association of Broadcasters.
“We’ve only taken a baby step from where we were four years ago,” Marks said, saying the new limits will leave stations with footage that is of little interest to viewers.
Of 84 witnesses who returned surveys on the impact of cameras in the courtroom, 5 percent said cameras were distracting, 10 percent said the presence of cameras affected their willingness to participate as witnesses, and 20 percent said the experience of being filmed or photographed negatively affected their attitude about participating as a witness in a future trial.
(Administrative Order Cameras in the Courtroom, SJC-228 (1994))
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