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Why Do Courts Use Courtroom Sketch Artists?

Updated on December 31, 2018
"Michael Vick Trial"
"Michael Vick Trial" | Source

Although the practice is slowly going out of style in many court districts; for many years U.S. courtrooms have been sketched in often hilarious portrayal. But why do courtrooms use sketch artists in the first place? What can they do that cameras and camcorders can't.

For the remainder of this hub I will enlighten you as to the main reasons why courtroom sketches are in use today. The answers may surprise you. Afterwards I will post courtroom sketches from famous (or rather infamous) trials that have played out within the last two decades or so....Enjoy.

"Courtroom Sketch of Lindsey Lohan."
"Courtroom Sketch of Lindsey Lohan."

A Brief History of Courtroom Sketching

Courtroom Sketching in the United States can be dated back all the way back to the Salem Witch Trials (1692-1693). As camera and video technology were not in existence at that time, sketches were the only reliable visual records of well.....anything. Thus courtroom sketches were in wide use right up until the late 19th century. Certain courtroom sketch artists became well-known for both their skill, speed and accurate depictions of courtroom scenery and drama. For example, George Caleb Bingham and David G. Blyth are two well-known courtroom sketch artists from this period. Their works were constant features in the pages of the New York Times and other well-known publications of the time.

Before we go on any further, I think it is important to realize one important thing. Courtroom sketch artists are not court-mandated or affiliated with any part of the legal system itself. In fact, if you haven't guessed it already, the only parties/persons who use courtroom sketch artists are the media and publications companies (think CNN and The New York Times). But then Justin....why don't they simply use video cameras or photography in the courtroom. There's a historical reason and I was getting to that. Now before I was so rudely interrupted.

During the early 50's mass publication of news photography had reached an all time high. This encouraged newsgroups to use flash photography to cover every major news event....and yes this included major court cases. Unsurprisingly, many court districts viewed photographers as a major distraction inside the courtroom and banned them altogether.

Not to be deterred by simple laws, newsgroups quickly sought out the assistance of sketch artists once again (who were still banned in some districts...but not as many as photographers were).

It wasn't until the mid-1980s that the first cameras and certain camcorders were allowed to be used in a courtroom without restriction. However, cameras and camcorders are still prohibited in some court districts. Therefore, sketch artists are still in use where cameras and camcorders are strictly prohibited.

Now for your viewing pleasure, below I have laid out a series of courtroom sketches.from famous (if not infamous) court cases.

"Richard Reid - The Shoe Bomber"
"Richard Reid - The Shoe Bomber" | Source

Court District:

United States District Court: District of Massachusetts.


United States of America v. Richard Colvin Reid, aka Abdul-Raheem aka Abu Ibrahim.

"Julian Assange -- Wikileaks Supervillain"
"Julian Assange -- Wikileaks Supervillain" | Source

Court District:

English Court System


Julian Assange Bond Hearing

"Chris Brown -- Well you know what happened."
"Chris Brown -- Well you know what happened." | Source

Court District:

Los Angeles Superior Court


Robyn Fenty vs. Chris Maurice Brown

"Paris Hilton --
"Paris Hilton -- | Source

Court District:

Clark County Regional Justice Center (in Las Vegas)


"Jerry Sandusky Trial"
"Jerry Sandusky Trial" | Source

Court District:

Centre County Court


Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Gerald Arthur Sandusky

"Taylor Swift vs. DJ David Mueller"
"Taylor Swift vs. DJ David Mueller" | Source

Court DIstrict:

Denver U.S. District Cout


Taylor Swift v. David Mueller

Also a little known fact about courtroom sketches from infamous trails is that they have surprising value as collectors items. Typical asking prices can range from as little as $7.00 to as much as $4,000.00 online. And at in-person auctions, prices for these sketches can approach $10,000.00 and above. As an example, check out the ebay post below for the courtroom sketch of the Timothy McVeigh Trial (Oklahoma City Bomber) and others.


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    • profile image


      15 months ago

      Hello Justin,

      I enjoyed reading this Hub because it's different and and rare. I don't see many Hubs on such topics and it is fascinating. Nice touch adding the real and infamous sketches featured here.

      It's always fun to learn a few tidbits of info here and there as you read the Hubs here or just in general.

      Great job!

    • Justin Muir profile imageAUTHOR

      Justin Muirhead 

      5 years ago from New York

      No problem, thanks for reading :)

    • MM Del Rosario profile image

      MM Del Rosario 

      5 years ago from NSW, Australia

      very informative, thanks for sharing


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