Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Georgia Supreme Court Reverses Trial Court, Grants Newspaper's Motion for Cameras in the Courtroom

The Savannah Morning News requested permission to photograph a murder trial using a still camera. The trial court denied its request and the newspaper filed an appeal. Based on the following findings, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision.

"First, the trial court did not find that the requested media coverage would jeopardize Griffin's due process rights. Instead, the court stated that Griffin objected to the coverage out of concern for his due process rights. ...Although OCGA [sec]15-1-10.1 (b)(2) permits a trial court to consider the objection of "the parties or witnesses whose testimony will be presented in the proceedings," we conclude that a party's objection must set forth an adequate ground for denying a request for electronic and photographic coverage and that the record must contain some factual basis supporting that ground. Otherwise, a party, by lodging a simple, unsupported objection to open courtroom proceedings, will control the public's right of access to those proceedings. Here, an adverse impact on a defendant's due process rights is an adequate ground for denying a motion for electronic and photographic coverage. However, neither Griffin nor the trial court articulated any basis for a finding that the requested coverage would have an adverse impact on Griffin's right to a fair trial. And, our review of the record does not demonstrate any factual basis for concluding that the use of a still camera would have impacted Griffin's due process rights. Moreover, although the trial court based the denial of the newspaper's motion on the jurors' desire for privacy, specifically, their desire not to be photographed, the newspaper stated at the hearing on its motion that it would not photograph the jurors and would, in this regard, "comply with whatever instructions the court gave us." In addition, the record shows that no juror voiced any concern for his or her privacy. Thus, even assuming that a juror's desire for privacy may sometimes justify a denial of a motion for still photography, there is no support in the record in this case for denying the newspaper's motion due to privacy concerns of the jurors. In addition, there is no factual basis to support the trial court's conclusions that the presence of a still camera would not increase openness of the proceedings. A camera generally will increase the openness of a judicial proceeding, and there is nothing in the record in this case to indicate that the newspaper's camera would not have done so. No party offered any evidence on this point, and the trial court did not explain, either at the hearing or in its order, why the camera would not increase openness. Finally, the trial court stated that, due to the small size of its courthouse, the presence of a camera would impact upon the administration of the court and detract from the ends of justice. The trial court, however, did not offer any explanation regarding how a silent, still camera that could be held by one person would, even in a small courthouse, detract from the administration of the court and the ends of justice....For the foregoing reasons, the trial court erred in denying the newspaper's motion to use a still camera during Griffin's trial." (notes omitted).

Read the entire decision here.

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