Tuesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments over the expansion of the media’s access to cameras and recording devices in the state’s courtrooms.
The advisory committee’s chairman, Ramsey County District Judge Richard Kyle, delivered a report urging the state not to significantly expand camera access.
Judges and other legal experts on the panel expressed concern that increasing media access might have unfavorable outcomes, such as distorting the public’s perception of cases and contaminating jury pools by giving prospective jurors the false impression that a defendant is guilty by appearing in court before the trial has even started.
There isn’t much proof that more media access has affected the legal system in other states, according to Mark Anfinson, an attorney with the Minnesota Newspaper Association and Minnesota Broadcasters Association. He said that it may even result in more openness and accountability.
Anfinson said to the seven justices that one of the most significant benefits of public access to criminal hearings is that it gives defendants in criminal cases confidence that they are being handled properly by the legal system.
The Society of Professional Journalists and the News Media Coalition were only two of the organizations that made arguments in support of greater access. The idea has been resisted by prosecutors and public defenders, who have raised issues with victim protection.
North Dakota and Wisconsin are two states that have more lax rules regarding TV cameras in courtrooms. Cameras are not allowed in federal courtrooms. In criminal trials, Minnesota permits more extensive media coverage, although normally, all parties in court must agree.
Currently, judges must provide permission for the media to enter the courtroom during sentencing hearings, but in practically all other situations, they are prohibited.
The committee discovered that, apart from the four instances involving the murders of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, Minnesota courts had only ever approved one request for increased pre-guilt coverage.
For two significant trials in Hennepin County in 2021, judges permitted cameras in their courtrooms. Judge Regina Chu subsequently permitted the same for the trial of former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter in the shooting death of Wright. Judge Peter Cahill had granted live media coverage during the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for Floyd’s murder.
Due to the unusual circumstances posed by having a trial during a pandemic and the high visibility of the case, the judges in both instances permitted cameras in the courtroom.
After the Chauvin trial, the Louisiana Supreme Court mandated a commission to reassess the guidelines for using cameras in court in June 2021. A public comment session was established by that committee earlier this year, and 13 people participated, the great majority of whom were in favor. Anfinson was one of five of those commentators who spoke in support of greater access to the court on Tuesday.
Anfinson, representing the newspaper and broadcasters group, claimed that the committee’s recommendations should not be followed for three reasons. He said that the conclusions lacked factual support, that data suggests that more media access benefits society more overall, and that it deprives the general public of the advantages of openness.
Others countered that having cameras in the courtroom can improve everyone’s behavior. Justice Natalie Hudson questioned Kyle, the chairman of the committee, about such remarks. Kyle said that although that could be the case in high-profile cases, it is not the case in less major trials.
Regarding the Chauvin trial, he said to Hudson, “Everyone on that trial was on their best behavior because they understood the risks.”
The Supreme Court has now received the updated report on media access during trials, and it will ultimately make a judgment on access.