TV station allowed to use cameras during second trial
GEORGIA–The Georgia Supreme Court in Atlanta ruled in early July that an Albany TV station may install video equipment in a courtroom for one murder trial but agreed that video cameras were correctly excluded from an earlier related trial because the publicity from the first might have adversely influenced the second.
The decision overturned in part and affirmed in part the ruling of Superior Court Judge Thad Gibson, who is presiding over a dual- murder trial where the two defendants are being tried separately, one after the other. The judge had denied WALB-TV’s request for video coverage of both trials, saying that having a camera in courtroom would violate the defendants’ due process rights and create a distraction. He did not exclude or restrict any other media coverage.
The Supreme Court found that allowing camera coverage of the first trial could potentially contaminate the jury pool for the second trial and thus violate due process for the second defendant, because testimony and evidence would be substantially similar in both trials.
However, the court also found that in the second trial, there was no specific evidence to support the lower court’s finding that allowing cameras would affect the defendant’s right to due process. It also concluded that the trial court did not support its finding that the presence of a silent and stationary camera would present any sort of distraction or detract from the “dignity or decorum” of the trial, and so reversed the trial judge’s ruling as it applied to the second trial.
WALB-TV had appealed to the Supreme Court after Gibson’s ruling. The station argued that the trial court had not made any specific findings of fact to show that presence of a stationary, silent camera and microphones in the courtroom would either violate due process or detract from the dignity and decorum of the court. Despite the fact that the first trial had ended, the Supreme Court agreed to review the ruling for both trials, stating that the underlying issues were capable of repetition. (WALB-TV v. Gibson; Media Counsel: William Cannon, Albany)