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Should the Media Be Allowed in Court Rooms?

Updated on February 17, 2016

The First and Sixth Amendments

The First Amendment of the Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution states no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

"Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done."

Lord Hewart (1923) stated "Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done." Based on Lord Hewart’s statement, this can only be accomplished by allowing media in the courtroom during trials. As technology has progressed, our country has more access to information, including public trials through television, newspaper, radio, and more. There two main arguments for allowing media in the courtroom. The first argument is that taxpayers supply the funds and are entitled by the first amendment to view the trial through whatever means. The second argument is the defendant’s verdict can be negatively impacted by media in the courtroom and it violates the sixth amendment that guarantees a fair trial to defendants. As citizens that pay for trials we are entitled to view those trials through media in the courtroom.

The constitution has conflicts in its First and Sixth amendments. The questions raised by the amendments are who has the right to take away the public’s constitutional right to view a trial funded by the public’s taxes? If you allow media in the courtroom do you violate the defendant’s rights? But if you do not do you violate the media’s rights? The First Amendment of the Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” This amendment applies to media in the portion in the sense that no law can be made to prohibit the freedom of the press. Making laws to stop the media from reporting on, or during, a public trial would violate the first amendment of the constitution. The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution states no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” When applying this to a defendant and his trial, the defendant is guaranteed a fair and public trial with due process of law. The argument can be made that the media can affect the verdict of the case through their public presentation of the case and their opinion of whether the defendant is guilty. However, whose burden is it to prove such an affect is being made? The sixth amendment’s promise of a fair and public trial is an advocating statement of media in the courtroom.

State Discretion

Some states in America have banned media in the courtroom for different reasons based on a judge, or group of judges, or interpretation of the constitution. According to Tom Sullivan (2005), a journalist for the online site “News Media and the Law”, New York was the first state to ban cameras in the courtroom. The New York Court of Appeals interpreted the Sixth amendment to mean the public and media have access to the trial, as guaranteed by the First amendment, however allowing the media to have greater rights such as recording devices and cameras is not fair when compared to regular citizens barred from even taking pictures with their camera. This is an interesting interpretation, but it is simply an interpretation by a group of judges. Tom Sullivan also reported that Florida allows cameras and media in the courtroom at the judge’s discretion. The judge can take into consideration the nature of the trial, the evidence to be presented, and the protection of jurors. Although any trial presented on television today, the media reminds the viewers they are not allowed to video the jurors because of the juror’s right to anonymity. The rulings supporting no cameras in the courtroom do not rely on a consistent factor. It is either not allowed or allowed only when the presiding judge states it can be (2005).

Some states have laws allowing media in the courtroom removing the judge’s ability to have discretion. In the case of The United States v. Thomas Reid and Edward Clements, the judge ruled in favor of media in the courtroom. The judge ruled the influence of the articles printed and read by the jurors, after questioning them and asking for affidavits from jurors attesting that no article influenced their decision on the verdict, that there was not enough evidence to show they were swayed in making their decision. This is much different from today’s proceedings. It is common knowledge that jurors are forbidden to read newspapers or watch the news during their service on the jury. In the case of Mississippi vs. Stephanie Stephens, the court argued it was the defendant’s burden to prove cameras would, or did affect, the outcome of the trial and how that it violated her rights. She failed to do so and the court upheld that cameras are allowed in the court room. New Mexico and Hawaii have ruled the public has the right to view the trial and the media does not affect the defendant’s verdict. These rulings abide strictly by the constitutional amendments and place the burden of proof on the defendant to show a negative impact on having media in the courtroom.

The history of media in the courtroom has shown conflicts in rulings and interpretations. Beginning with the constitutional issues, in the case of Barron v. Baltimore ( 1833 ), the judge ruled that the amendments to the constitution have no bearing on the power of the states. States do have the ability to create more restrictive laws than federal in the interest of protecting their citizens and thus can state whether cameras are allowed in the Court or not. However, in protecting some of their citizens with more restrictive laws, they are denying other citizens of their rights. However, in another precedent stating case regarding the use of newspaper as coverage of a case in United States v. Burr, the judge ruled “composed of [jurors] who will fairly hear the testimony which may be offered to them, and bring in their verdict according to that testimony, and according to the law arising on it.” According to his ruling, simply because a potential juror saw the pretrial coverage cannot be conclusive that it impacted a juror to be biased towards a verdict. The judge required proof that the exposure to the coverage caused an adverse affect on the verdict. Today, many trials are covered and the media reaches millions of people. If we relied on the fact that it did affect everyone watching, then the courts would have a very difficult time finding a juror to sit on a trial. If we relied on each state taking away or granting citizen’s rights to their amendments of the constitution, then we are allowing the violation of civil rights, regardless of whether you are a defendant or the media.

The Trial of the Century


Media Influence on Court Cases

The issues surrounding media in the courtroom and its affect on the defendant began with printed newspapers regarding the trial and progressed to televised trials and the issues surrounding live coverage. The first case to make a change to rules was the Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial, also known as “The Trial of the Century.” According to Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax (1998), “The American Bar Association Cannon 35 which banned all still and motion cameras and microphones from courtrooms. That law was established because of the constant noise of flashes and reporters whispering throughout the trial. Many believed Hauptmann did not receive a fair trial because of the media. When he was arrested, headlines read:

Lindbergh Kidnaper (sic) Arrested. He was presumed guilty upon arrest. Reporters fought to be the first to bring fresh news. Wires transmitted daily court transcripts all around the world. The entire trial added up to 55,000 transmitted words. And much of it was simply made up for the sake of fresh news. (Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax, 1998, p. 34)

Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax (1998), also states while jurors took breaks, the media was in the vicinity of the jurors yelling things like “send Hauptmann to the chair!"and "kill Hauptmann!" Canon 35 isn’t a law but a strong recommendation to courts to ban all still and motion cameras.

In another media saturated case, the OJ Simpson Trial,. The impact of the media was more on the prosecution and defense team, than the defendant. According to Charles Montaldo’s research regarding the trial coverage, this trial changed the way the public and media viewed and handled trials. The pressure was on the judicial system and its participants (2010).

Any influence news media coverage may have on major trials may not affect juries so much as it might have an impact on judges, prosecutors and even defense attorneys. For judges, the impact may come in sentencing. For counsel trying the case, the media may find holes in either side's argument, or include information not presented as evidence in court - such as prior convictions for a relevant crime by the defendant. The authors note in their book that defense attorneys may be motivated to work harder by excessive publicity, since it calls attention to their efforts and may attract future clients. But in the end, publicity alone isn't enough to affect the verdict in most cases. (Charles Montaldo, p.3)

Media in the Court Room

Should Media be allowed in the courtroom even if it negatively impacts a Defendant's trial

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Conflicting Conclusion

This research brings many unanswered and conflicted questions. Who has more rights in a trial? Is it the taxpayers who pay for the trial, or the defendant who is on trial? Whose burden of proof is it to show why or why not cameras are allowed in the courtroom? The conflicts are the only consistent factor in the rulings. However the most often produced ruling, is media is allowed in the courtroom, unless the defendant proves it negatively impacts them or the media is disruptive to the process. Otherwise, to disallow media in the courtroom violates citizens’ first amendment of the constitution.

Media on Lindbergh Case Footage



Barron v. Baltimore ( 1833) Old Case from 1800’s Caselaw

Charles Montaldo (2010) Free Press vs. Fair Trials, Book Challenges Media Influence on Trial Verdicts Retrieved August 20th, 2010 from

In The United States v. Thomas Reid and Edward Clements

53 U.S. 361, 13 L.Ed. 1023, 12 Howard 361 ( 1851)

Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax (1998) The Execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, The Lindbergh Trial. Retrieved August 20, 2010 from

Tom Sullivan (2005) New York high court says camera ban constitutional. From the Summer 2005 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 38 . Retrieved from August 25th, 2010

United States v. Burr, 25 F. Case. 49, 50 (C.C.D. Va. 1807) (No. 14,692g).


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