NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · INDIANA · Broadcasting · May 12, 2006
Trial courts to allow video and audio recording
May 12, 2006 · Trial court proceedings in eight Indiana courtrooms will be open to television and radio equipment under a project that begins July 1. The state’s appellate courts already allow such coverage.
The state Supreme Court voted 3-2 in favor of the 18-month experiment, which will involve eight judges around the state opening their courtrooms to recording with the parties’ consent. Broadcast news stations and reporters will be allowed to use one video camera and up to three tape recorders in a courtroom at a time; one still camera also will be allowed.
“This is partly based on the premise that the judicial branch is an equal partner to the legislative and executive branches,” said Steve Key, an attorney for the Hoosier State Press Association. “But courts are less visible, and that works to their detriment because the public has less of an opportunity to see the actual workings of the courts and have less of an understanding of and appreciation for what courts do.”
The Hoosier State Press Association, along with the Indiana Broadcasters Association, requested the project to give citizens a better idea of how the judicial process works. Indiana has allowed cameras in its Supreme Court and appellate courts, but this is the first time since the 1950s and ’60s that cameras have been allowed in trial courts, Key said.
“I hope that this experiment will help inform the public about the workings of the judicial system and remove any mystery about what happens in a courtroom,” Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard said in a statement. “The ultimate success of the project will be determined by how much the public benefits from this greater access afforded the working press.”
Although the media have come out “overwhelmingly positive” about the project, Key said, judges and lawyers will likely be in both camps. “The decision was split 3-2,” he said. “Even the Supreme Court was almost split evenly on whether they should even test it.”
The media will be required to pool their resources, and their agreement must be approved by the trial judge in advance. Both parties must consent to their use, and no jurors, confidential informants, minors or witnesses at sentencing hearings may be photographed.
When the project ends in December 2007, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Hoosier State Press Association will evaluate the experiment to determine whether to continue the program. Key said they plan to question judges, lawyers and other participants; and possibly conduct focus groups in communities to determine whether it helps citizens in their understanding of the courts. He predicts an initial “flurry” of interest in getting cameras into the courtrooms, but that “normal editorial news judgment will take over once the novelty wears off.”
“After 18 months, we hope the result won’t be any different than the federal tests or results in the states, and it will show that cameras have little or no impact on the administration of justice,” Key said.
Judges in Boonville, Crawfordsville, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Muncie and South Bend will participate in the program.