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Vote: Do You Want Cameras in Criminal Court Rooms?

The decision is being heralded for its transparency, but will it come at a cost to individual rights?

The Illinois Supreme Court has given the state’s circuit courts the right to allow filming during trial proceedings.

With the permission of judges within Cook and Will counties, Southland news media sources would be able to bring television and still cameras into courtrooms to shoot certain criminal cases.

By issuing a few ground rules off the bat, the high court has resolved a few of the immediate issues pitting transparency against the rights of individuals. After an interview with Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride, Illinois Statehouse News notes:

  • Jurors and potential jurors may not be photographed.
  • Cameras and recording devices will not be allowed in juvenile, divorce, adoption, child custody and evidence suppression cases.
  • No more than two television cameras and no more than two still photographers will be allowed in a courtroom at one time.
  • Victims of violent felonies, police informants and relocated witnesses may request that the judge prohibit them from being photographed.

Illinois had been only one of 14 states that did not allow cameras to record criminal trials.

The high court’s decision is being considered as part of a pilot program and will be continued, tweaked or abandoned at some point down the road.

In a statement, Circuit Court of Will County Chief Judge Gerald R. Kinney said it may be months before he and his fellow judges decide whether to participate.

“Our primary concern is to ensure that the rights of all parties are protected and that any coverage is allowed in the least obtrusive manner,” Kinney said. “This is a new concept at the Circuit Court level and we must proceed cautiously yet expeditiously.”

Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans was more optimistic. He called the new policy “a positive change in the right direction” in a statement of his own, noting that an advisory committee consisting of judges, attorneys, members of the media and the public will be tasked with setting specific modes of procedure.

“The reality is we live in a time of a tremendous amount of media, but it doesn’t mean that media is always successful,” said Kathleen Rinehardt, general counsel for Saint Xavier University in Chicago.

Take reality television: what you see on one tidy half-hour of Judge Judy isn’t what you get in the courts.

“The judicial process isn’t quick … and you have to be really attentive to what’s going on,” she added. “Conversely, there are going to be defendants and plaintiffs who don’t want to be exposed in that manner.”

Baba Wawa January 30, 2012 at 11:29 PM
They're outed regardless of cameras. They're testifying in a public trial. Sketch artists can draw them and members of the media are in there taking notes on their testimony.
Jesse Marx January 31, 2012 at 12:06 AM
Don't forget transcripts from the court reporter, though not every court room has one.
Tom January 31, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Baba, you are correct about trials being open to the public, but a courtroom only holds so many people. Some of the past trials where the sensationalism overrides common sense bothers me. Innocent lives could be ruined,and there is always the possibility of the trials turning into a witch hunt as well as publicity seeking lawyers and judges using it for their own self promotion. This needs to be thought out a lot better than it has so far.
Tony January 31, 2012 at 01:39 PM
I think the choice to have a camera in court during a trial should be up to the person being tried.
Chester Rook February 07, 2012 at 08:29 AM
I don't like this idea at all. While it's true trials are open to the public, anyone that has an interest or is that concerned is more than welcome to wake up and get down to the courthouse on their own. Televising something like this brings up privacy issues and would more than likely create a lot of anxiety for anyone testifying. I would strongly advise AGAINST bringing cameras into the courtroom.

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