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Federal Courts To Begin First Digital Video Pilot 80

Posted by samzenpus
from the trial-tube dept.
coondoggie writes "Federal district courts have been prohibited from allowing any sort of electronic dissemination of trials since 1946, but that is about to change. Fourteen federal trial courts and 100 judges have been selected to take part in the federal Judiciary's three-year digital video pilot, which will begin July 18 and will go a long way towards determining the effect of cameras in courtrooms."
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Federal Courts To Begin First Digital Video Pilot

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  • by torgis (840592) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:54PM (#36378602) Journal
    I'm not a fan of becoming a surveillance society, but cameras in certain instances definitely make sense. I want cameras in the courtroom, police waiting rooms, and mounted on every police car during traffic stops. If my freedom may some day depend on my word against that of a police officer, I'd prefer to have hard video evidence just in case. Just look at all of the cases where you see cops acting with impunity because they didn't know they were being filmed, and then watch their reactions once they know someone busted them.
    • by oh-dark-thirty (1648133) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:01PM (#36378706)

      Public employees' work should be transparent to the people that pay their salaries, period. It is ironic how the police and law enforcement in general want cameras on all of us, but shine the spotlight on them and they cry foul.

         

      • Would this include military personnel?
        • Within reason, sure. I don't expect a teardown of an F35 to be posted to youtube, but I do remember the days when reporters were able to film and actually, you know, report on the goings-on in war zones.

      • I'm not sure that the argument that you are a public employee therefore you deserve no privacy in the workplace really holds water. By the same argument there should be nothing wrong with your employer being able to read your private web hosted email if you check it at work.
        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          They shoiuld and they can. They can monitor whatever you do at work on their time. If you don't like it, don't check your webmail on your work computer. If you simply must check it during the day, use your cell phone during one of your specified breaks, or using a notebook with a 3G connection, again during your specified breaks. Sure it's inconvenient, but I don't see why you should expect privacy when you are using your work computer.
      • "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial..."

        In my mind this should of happened years ago. If they have instant replay in football why can't I have the same ability to challenge the transcript in a court room? I'm not saying this data needs to be live streamed over the internet, But I think it needs to be available to the public in some means.
        • by hedwards (940851)

          The question is what precisely constitutes a public trial. The founding fathers definitely didn't envision the possibility of the entire nation viewing a trial, and in my view this would be a mistake. The public nature of a trial is to ensure transparency, however when such proceedings are televised it dries up the pool of potential jurors as well. Which is usually not a problem, however sometimes there's a civil suit which follows a criminal trial or for one reason or another the case has to be retried all

        • It needs to be "public" enough so no one thinks anyone is hiding anything in there. Therefore anyone can walk into a courtroom and watch a public trial.
      • by hedwards (940851)

        I disagree, cameras only make sense for things like Law enforcement, it's complete bullshit to make somebody take a pay cut to work in the public sector and then force them to give up all their privacy as well. There's no reason why we need cameras in most of those cases when an independent auditor can already ensure adequate transparency in a way that the public watching can't.

        Plus, you're not their boss. I know that people are going to disagree, but you're not. When you can hire and fire them and call the

        • cameras only make sense for things like Law enforcement,

          Or more specificly, they make sense where there is a significant power imbalance, and thus opportunity for unpunished abuse, between the people being filmed.

          Pointing a camera at some office drone simply because he handles paperwork for the state government doesn't do anyone any good.

    • by torgis (840592) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:12PM (#36378856) Journal
      Let me clarify a little bit too - I don't mean all this crap should become a TV media circus. But it should be filmed for posterity's sake and archived, available with a Freedom of Information request.
      • Unfortunately as soon as this became an option, every time elections were up for anything from town sheriff to president, campaign reps will be spamming Freedom of Information for any reports and videos on the opposition and their entire party to use it against them in the campaign. Not to mention Paparazzi magazines would do it for any video footage of celebrities.
        • by torgis (840592)
          Understood, but I would be willing to accept this as the cost of having an open and transparent judicial system. If the files are digitized and put online, with a small access charge for FoA requests, the cost to the municipalities would be minimal. Probably less than dealing with Xeroxing court transcripts by the caseload for FoA requests today.
    • by AvitarX (172628)

      I've worked in a trial in Delaware Chancellery Court that did this, it was pretty cool.

      Additionally any time over 50 pixels changed on the document display (which was either from a document camera or a laptop feed) a screen shot was taken.

      In real time you could watch both, and then about 6pm you could get the video and a timed power point display. It was nice. New Jersey has videos of the proceedings available in the high-tech court rooms too.

      I think the fear that the courts have is that the official record

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      I'm not a fan of becoming a surveillance society, but cameras in certain instances definitely make sense. I want cameras in the courtroom, police waiting rooms, and mounted on every police car during traffic stops. If my freedom may some day depend on my word against that of a police officer, I'd prefer to have hard video evidence just in case. Just look at all of the cases where you see cops acting with impunity because they didn't know they were being filmed, and then watch their reactions once they know someone busted them.

      While I do wholeheartedly agree with you in regards of being able to defend yourself with hard evidence, I don't know yet if there is enough value in exchanging my right to privacy(allow cameras in certain areas, whats to stop them from putting them everywhere), only to find that the cop who was "busted" on video receives nothing more than a slap on the wrist. You managed to point out only half of the real issue here with people being caught on film. If those caught on film are still not punished appropri

    • ...sketch artists? [ehow.com]

      Maybe they should organize into some kind of Sketch Artist Industry of America organization, and sue everyone for watching courtroom videos instead of looking at their static, yet artistic and unique, drawings?
      I'm sure that over the years they've gotten to know a few lawyers who'd represent them in their quest to ban cameras from courtrooms once again.

  • by Aladrin (926209) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @01:59PM (#36378678)

    "the effect of cameras in courtrooms" ... That's something that seems pretty simple, until you start think about it.

    Look at the OJ trial. If that hadn't been covered by the media, would it have been such a circus? Would the same result have happened? We don't know, but it's quite possible things would be quite different. For one thing, those lawyers suddenly knew their careers could be made or broken on that case, and that's going to change their strategy. The whole glove-trying thing was supposed to be a huge visual shocker (and it was!) and turned out horribly wrong for the prosecutor. If there had been no cameras, would he have still done it?

    The jurors also knew their every in-court action would be up for public scrutiny, not the least of which was the final verdict. It's nearly impossible to determine how that affected each of them.

    If you haven't guessed already, I don't think trials should be publicized until they are over. The media shouldn't get to cover the trial while in progress. It's not entertainment, it's justice. And it's being warped.

    • The media shouldn't get to cover the trial while in progress. It's not entertainment, it's justice. Why can't it be both?

      i.e., "Who runs Bartertown?"

    • by causality (777677) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:09PM (#36378822)

      If you haven't guessed already, I don't think trials should be publicized until they are over. The media shouldn't get to cover the trial while in progress. It's not entertainment, it's justice.

      No kidding. I feel that way every time there's some long drawn-out event that gets minute-by-minute play-by-play coverage for weeks.

      I never liked the idea of hearing about each miniscule development each day for days or weeks. I'd much rather they wait until a trial or election or what-have-you is over, and then tell me what the result was, once. Not dozens of times. Few events warrant that kind of attention, and among those which do, the whole "media circus" phenomenon makes a mockery of them.

    • by Wyatt Earp (1029)

      "The media shouldn't get to cover the trial while in progress."

      Then change the US Constitution.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        That right there is the problem. I can't imagine how we could change the constitution so as to prevent the media circus that some of these proceedings result in without adversely affecting the ability of the media to engage in legitimate journalistic coverage of trials in general.

        It's obvious to pretty much everybody that there is a problem with the way that the press covers high profile trials, but nobody has been able to propose a solution which doesn't lend itself to the sorts of abuses which our Constit

        • by pluther (647209)
          Why is it a problem? Seriously - yes, the OJ Simpson trial was a media circus. But... so what?

          The verdict is going to be the same. The jurors are chosen before the media reports the trial.

          It may be distasteful to be watching a man's life hang in the balance and using that to sell advertising, but so what?

          If you don't like it, don't watch it. I didn't.

          Until they start creating trials purely for their entertainment value, who cares if there are circuses around some of them.

          I'd much rather have an occa

    • by chispito (1870390)

      The jurors also knew their every in-court action would be up for public scrutiny, not the least of which was the final verdict.

      The jurors were never on camera.

    • The jurors also knew their every in-court action would be up for public scrutiny, not the least of which was the final verdict. It's nearly impossible to determine how that affected each of them.

      The jurors were not shown during the trial, so I can't imagine how their in-court actions would be known.

    • by AvitarX (172628)

      WRT OJ, I would say it encouraged them to hit a proper (in the legal sense) verdict, even though the guy was obviously guilty, and it probably made them miserable to do so.

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:07PM (#36378790)

    People who really care are happy with transcripts. Cameras turn lawyers and judges into showboaters and definitely influences the process. A judge who previously would have happily accepted that he was in the wrong and sided with an attorney on minor issues now will worry about his image (especially in the era of electable judges), puff out his chest, and push back.

    And, what of the cases of the "indefensible"; pedophiles, terrorists, rapists, etal.? How much more likely is a judge willing to reject an argument in their favor for fear of looking like he's an appeaser?

    Lack of cameras is a natural barrier for the carnival barkers and curiosity seekers looking for nothing more than another reality TV outlet.

    • by afidel (530433)
      Federal judges aren't elected....
    • by AvitarX (172628)

      Sidebars would not be part of the video available to the public, just as they are not part of the transcript available to the public.

      That was easy.

    • (especially in the era of electable judges)

      To be fair, Article III federal judges are appointed for life terms. But your point is well-made anyway.

  • Except for some weirdos like me who have an interest in legal proceedings, my guess is that these trials will be as widely viewed as C-SPAN --- that is, practically not at all.

    This doesn't mean that I don't think it's important that the proceedings of every trial are recorded and made (to the greatest extent possible) available to the public. It's just that I'm too cynical to think that Joe Sixpack is interested in watching anything like this. Even I would only be interested in watching the proceedings in i

    • by afidel (530433)
      Many Supreme Court hearings would probably be viewed fairly widely, just maybe not by Joe Sixpack.
  • Bad idea (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cpu6502 (1960974) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:10PM (#36378826)

    (1) Adding video to Congress has not made anything more "transparent". Now the elected servants just hide in their offices to shaft the populace, and they use the floor to do pointless campaign speeches (posturing).

    (2) A judge's duty is to the law, even if that displeases the general population. Having a camera means he too will be giving speeches to get re-elected, instead of following the letter of the law.

    • by afidel (530433)
      Federal Justices aren't elected!
      • It amazes me that they don't know this because it must mean they've never voted in an election in their lives or if they did they just weren't paying attention.

        • by afidel (530433)
          Given participate rates and the results of elections either one could be true =)
          Though I do have to admit that I frequently skip judges when I vote as I often don't have enough time to research their positions and records like I would like to and I won't vote an uninformed ballot.
          • Though I do have to admit that I frequently skip judges when I vote as I often don't have enough time to research their positions and records like I would like to and I won't vote an uninformed ballot.

            You shouldn't need to research their 'positions'. Judges should make decisions based on the constitution, the law, and the evidence. They most decidely should not base their decisions on public opinion, which litigant donated the most to their campaign, or how the decision will affect their chances of being

            • by afidel (530433)
              Was more referring to things like lock em up and throw away the key vs rehabilitation or "all drug crimes get the max, no exceptions" like one local judge who I did vote against.
    • (1) Adding video to Congress has not made anything more "transparent". Now the elected servants just hide in their offices to shaft the populace, and they use the floor to do pointless campaign speeches (posturing).

      Not if you watch The Daily Show. Maybe most of them have run off to hide, but there is still enough footage of them saying obviously contradictory things to keep millions of people entertained 4 nights a week.

    • Federal judges are not elected. This article is about federal judges. Accordingly, there should be no concern about giving election speeches from the bench.

  • On the one hand, you have a better record of testimony. Written transcripts only pick up words, not actions or tone of testimony. Video picks up a lot more.

    OTOH, video can be deceiving. People tend to believe video because they are seeing it. Thus, if the camera angles weren't right, it might persuade them one way over another.

    Humdinger...

  • Honestly there are lots of transactions in life where it's just not in anyone's interest to have the "juicy bits" up on YouTube. The only thing anyone will ever see from courtroom video will be the stuff that's "entertaining" and most likely taken out of context.

    All these court proceedings are already public, so if you don't care enough about a trial to actually go there and observe it for yourself, then I don't think you need to have access to a full video record of the proceedings. Transcripts and eyewitn

    • by sohmc (595388)

      It's rare, but I sometimes wished I could be at the trial, but because of work, I can't. You're absolutely right that we need to summarize more. However, I think we can do that while still have access to the full record.

      I think of it like a library index file. You get the summary, but if you want, they can get the whole book for you.

    • by LamerX (164968)

      Are you serious? The raw data is the kind of data that the government needs to have on record. The last thing we want is some kind of slanted summary of a case becoming the official record. The whole thing needs to be available so that the public can go back and witness the facts if you disagree with the "summary." Washington has had all it's state Supreme Court cases on trial for years, and nothing of what you're talking about has happened. It's all archived in one place, and endless trial video isn't plas

  • Washington State has been broadcasting State Supreme Court cases on TV and archiving them all on the web for well over 10 years. The Effect? People go back through court cases and gather up information more quickly and easily than they ever could have before. Our legal system hasn't been burdened, and it helps get the facts of cases out to the people quicker. People anywhere in the world can attend the court cases without having to travel to the courtroom. There haven't been any negative effects of this AT

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