Supreme Court takes step for courtroom cameras in criminal cases

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The Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a study to see if cameras should be considered in some criminal proceedings in Minnesota courtrooms. Current rules in Minnesota allow cameras in criminal proceedings only if all parties to the case agree, which, according to the Pioneer Press, virtually never happens.

The Associated Press reports the study was authorized as the court announced that it will continue to allow cameras in certain civil cases, based on a 2011 pilot project that allowed audio and video recording if a judge authorized the request. Although that project ended, the advisory committee on the general rules of practice issued a report that concluded the pilot project turned up no problems. The Supreme Court said in an order that such media coverage could continue and finalized rules already in place.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote that an advisory committee will have the next year to study whether audio and video coverage can be expanded into some criminal proceedings, opening the door to eventual coverage.

While some critics argue that coverage could make victims, witnesses and jury members uncomfortable or fearful, the Pioneer Press spoke with the attorney for the media groups who petitioned for greater access who said increased coverage would provide citizens with insight into the court system.

"In certain types of cases, especially criminal cases of enormous importance to the community, nothing can quite convey the operation of the judicial system, the administration of justice, like seeing and hearing events unfold in the courtroom," Mark Anfinson said. "This is progress."

Child custody, divorce, juvenile, child protection paternity and civil commitment proceedings would be exempted from camera coverage.

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the U.S. Supreme Court held in 1981 that states may adopt rules permitting cameras and recording equipment in their courts. Since then, all 50 states have done so, but the rules and access vary widely. Minnesota courts have been among the most restrictive for visual and audio coverage.

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