The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the Charlottesville Circuit Court’s ruling not to allow a local NBC affiliate to film the sentencing of a high-profile murder case involving a college lacrosse player.
The state high court ruled that it is up to the discretion of the trial courts to determine whether or not to allow photography or recording in the court room.
The opinion, written by Justice Donald W. Lemons, cited the Virginia statute that governs media coverage of judicial proceedings, writing that the presiding judge has the authority to “prohibit, interrupt or terminate electronic media and still photography coverage of public judicial proceedings.”
“It clearly intended to give the trial court great discretion in making the initial determination whether to permit still photography or cameras in the courtroom,” he wrote, referencing the 1992 revisions to the statute. He also wrote that the trial court does not have to explain its reasoning for denying a request.
Virginia Broadcasting Corporation filed a request to record the trial of University of Virginia student George Huguely V and was denied. The media organization later requested to record Huguely's sentencing after he was convicted of murdering his former girlfriend and fellow student Yeardley Love
In a July 2012 hearing, VBC lawyers argued that there was no “good cause” for keeping cameras out of the sentencing and that they were no longer in danger of causing a prejudice to the defendant.
The Supreme Court, however, found that the trial court judge did not have to find "good cause" when it decided to ban cameras from the courtroom.
Both the commonwealth and Huguely opposed VBC's motion. Each argued that cameras could influence any witnesses testifying at the sentencing hearing.
When the court denied its request to record, VBC alleged that the court was treating broadcast media differently than print media and it filed a motion for reconsideration. The court denied the motion without a hearing.
Although Huguely’s sentencing hearing had already taken place, the high court agreed to hear the appeal because similar scenarios could arise in the future.
Lemons also noted that the trial court was right to consider the impact media coverage would have on the pending civil suit against Huguely.