Should Cameras Be Allowed in the Kohberger Courtroom?
Bryan Kohberger’s attorneys are asking the Latah County Court to disallow cameras in the courtroom, saying journalists focus too much attention on their client.
I’m sorry, but: Duh. Of course the cameras focus on Kohberger. He is the news. Not the judge, not the attorneys, not the district attorney or the jury (when it comes to trial). Even when a verdict is read, Kohberger is at the center of the news stories.
What makes news? News is defined as containing any or all of the following: proximity, prominence, timeliness, oddity, human interest, scandal, conflict, consequence and impact. In Moscow, this case connects all those dots making it a major news story people want to follow.
Placing cameras in the courtroom is not a new debate, it is something that has stirred controversy for generations. The greatest tension is the defendant’s right to a fair trial versus the public’s right to know. Opponents of cameras claim the mere presence of a camera will change the way some people behave and present themselves on the stand. Defenders say it provides a clear understanding of the court proceedings.
What we learned from the O.J. Simpson courtroom
In a sense, the Kohberger case is like the 1994 O.J. Simpson case: One suspect accused of a heinous murder. In the Simpson case, cameras were allowed in the courtroom and millions of people watched the proceedings. Often, people were stunned by the way a court is conducted, it was a learning experience about the justice system in America.
Like Simpson, Kohberger is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and only a trial can determine his innocence or guilt. Allowing cameras into the courtroom to document the proceedings is not sensational. It is helping citizens better understand the case. In the end, it is a form of closure for the community.
Prior to cameras, newspapers often used sketch artists to show what happened in a court. Frequently, lawyers complained that the artists did not give a true representation of their client. Starting in 1935 with the Lindberg baby kidnapping trial, cameras have been allowed in some courtrooms.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court did overturn a 1965 Texas conviction citing the presence of cameras created bad press for the defendant. This led to a nearly 20-year moratorium on allowing cameras in any courts across America.
Cameras in the courtroom now up to each judge’s discretion
In 1981, the Supreme Court recalibrated and said a total ban on broadcasting trials was not justified, allowing each court to decide about allowing cameras. By the mid-1990s, people could watch some trials, providing a look at how justice is carried out.
Still, the Simpson case was also a backwards step in many legal arenas. The imperfections of the Simpson case influenced many judges to disallow cameras in some high-profile cases, such as the Oklahoma City Bombing trial and the Scott Peterson murder case. Today, judges have the option of allowing cameras in a trial or not.
Watching court proceedings is not like reading mystery fiction for fun. The procedures are often tedious, slow and sometimes it is difficult to follow the logic of the opposing sides. Unless one is a legal expert, key elements can pass by a viewer who may not understand why an argument is important.
Yet, as Americans we have a right to justice and, often, the only way people can see it happen is if a local court will allow cameras into the courtroom for a major case. Yes, one does need to balance the right to a fair trial and due process with the First Amendment and the citizen’s right to public information.
If Kohberger, as the accused, is at the center of the case, any courtroom camera will pay attention to him and his reactions. Whether he likes it or not, he is the center of the news story. That is the nature of news. Looking at the case at hand and comparing it to the elements of what makes news, the Kohberger trial is pretty much a trifecta in terms of news value, justice and people having the right to see it in action.