Limited test will provide a step forward for cameras in Minnesota courtrooms

An order today from Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lori Gildea offers a small step forward for cameras in state courtrooms.

Currently, the state allows cameras only in cases where all parties to the proceeding agree to let them in; that rarely happens, and almost never in newsworthy cases.

But today’s order calls for a pilot project that would allow audio and video coverage in very limited circumstances even if a party objects.

Local media outlets have been trying for decades to open the courtrooms to cameras, as is allowed in some other states. (O.J. Simpson, the Rodney King assault, Jodi Arias and the Menendez brothers come to mind.)

But concerns about affecting the outcome of a trial, the effect on witnesses and showboating by lawyers have all been cited here as reasons to limit it.

In the pilot program, audio and video will be allowed in criminal proceedings, such as sentencing, that occur after a guilty verdict has been returned or after a guilty plea has been returned. But no cameras will be allowed when a jury is present, or in sexual-assault or domestic-violence cases.

Justice Alan Page dissented to the order, saying:

“What research there is on how cameras in the courtroom affect criminal proceedings suggests that there is little, if any, benefit to the public. At the same time, we know that the potential for harm to the participants in the criminal justice system is real.”

Page also said that the expanded use of cameras in the courtroom could “exacerbate racial bias in our judicial system.”

The new program will start Nov. 10. By Jan. 1, 2018, the Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure will report on the results and offer recommendations on whether to continue, modify or abandon the program.

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