Sun Investigates

Ray Rice case in N.J. highlights debate over courtroom cameras

As he walked into the Atlantic County, N.J., courthouse for his arraignment on assault charges, Ravens running back Ray Rice was followed by television cameras. Inside was no relief from their lenses, either, with cameras rolling and photographers snapping pictures as the All-Pro pleaded not guilty.

That would not have been the case had Rice's arrest occurred in Maryland, which has a complete ban on photography and recording in its criminal courts. There are exceptions for civil trials, and oral arguments in the Court of Appeals are broadcast live on the Internet.


Still, the overall restrictions put Maryland in a minority. Most states have rules permitting coverage of criminal and civil proceedings, according to organizations that track access to courts.

Del. Michael Smigiel, a Cecil County Republican, has filed bills seeking to increase camera access, most recently in 2008. The bill did not make it out of committee.


"It makes no sense whatsoever that a person can walk into the courtroom and sit there and look at it, but you can't put a camera in there," said Smigiel, who added that he'd like to revisit the issue. He believes cameras would increase transparency and judicial accountability.

In the Rice case, media organizations had to request access in advance, and only a limited number of television stations and print outlets could use cameras. Reporters who did not receive approval were told not to take cellphone pictures — though the court had no issue with the reporters using Twitter or email during the proceedings, something that is a no-go in Maryland courtrooms.

Representatives of the Maryland judiciary did not respond to a request for comment Friday on the court's current view on cameras. Some of the most commonly cited arguments against recording are that attorneys or judges may "play" to the cameras, or that cameras would be disruptive.

Baltimore Circuit Court proceedings are recorded by the courts themselves, and the public can view redacted proceedings in the court reporter's office. Those recordings cannot leave the courthouse or be reproduced, however. In other Maryland counties, proceedings are captured through audio recordings or traditional transcription.

In 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court lifted a ban on filming inside courtrooms, and in May 2013 cameras were rolling for the first time during the trial of a man accused of a triple murder. State officials in Utah also recently approved cameras in courtrooms.

In Indiana, the courts experimented with a camera affixed to a wall that streamed proceedings online — researchers determined that it had no negative effect on trial proceedings, according to Indiana Public Radio.

But even rules allowing access do not guarantee it. In Virginia, the state Supreme Court last fall upheld a judge's decision to ban cameras from the sentencing of University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely V, ruling that the judge had the authority to restrict cameras.

The U.S. Supreme Court and federal courts prohibit cameras altogether. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has called cameras an "insidious dynamic" that he doesn't want in the courtroom.


Justin Fenton