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Minnesota high court weighs issue of more camera access in the state’s courtrooms

The Minnesota Supreme Court will soon decide whether to ease media restrictions on recording criminal proceedings across the state, raising concerns from defense attorneys and prosecutors alike.

The Minnesota Supreme Court will soon decide whether to ease media restrictions on recording criminal proceedings across the state, raising concerns from defense attorneys and prosecutors alike.

Media and the public are currently banned from using cameras in Minnesota courtrooms in criminal cases except when the defense, prosecution and the judge all give consent.
“As you can probably imagine, that didn’t happen particularly frequently,” said Beau Berentson, director of public affairs for the Minnesota Judicial Branch.
An advisory committee to the state Supreme Court has recommended a pilot program that would allow the recording of criminal cases after a guilty verdict, unless the judge has a good reason to object, Berentson said.
Post-conviction hearings that could be filmed under the proposed pilot program include sentencing hearings, when victims sometimes testify.
Brian Melton, Clay County attorney, and others worry that, given the prospect of being recorded by the news media, victims would be made to feel uncomfortable and be less likely to testify.
“If the victim didn’t want to be shown, is there going to be protections?” Melton asked. “Those are the things I think that the Supreme Court has to address.”
Defense attorney and former prosecutor Kenneth Kohler said that for victims, the experience of having their testimony recorded and shared by the media could make them feel re-victimized.
“I can see a lot of victims not wanting to go on camera,” he said.
The proposed pilot program includes protections for the privacy of victims and jurors, Berentson said. Victims could object to being recorded and cameras would not be allowed to be pointed at the jury.
But those protections could change, depending on what the Supreme Court decides.
“The court does not need to adopt the pilot that is verbatim of the … recommendation,” Berentson said.
Another concern with cameras is they could lead to more theatrical and aggressive performances in the courtroom, Kohler said.
“People act differently when they’re on camera,” he said. “They start to put on a show, and I think it can affect what happens.”
Melton disagreed. “I think that largely people would continue to … represent themselves professionally.”
Allowing greater access to cameras could have an upside, too, Kohler and Melton said.
“Benefits would be that the public would have a right to see what exactly occurred,” Kohler said. “Clear accuracy would be there.”
“People might understand more … what goes on in the courtroom,” Melton said.
Berentson said it is not known when the Supreme Court will make its decision.

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