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BLOG: A jury foreman talks cameras in court
By Adam Chodak #OpenNYCourts
This blog is part of an ongoing effort by 13WHAM to convince New York judges and lawmakers to allow cameras inside the courtroom.
The argument against access goes like this: cameras in court tread on a defendants right to a fair trial because video coverage can prejudice jurors.
Video coverage has this capability, the argument continues, because it uses sound bites or snippets and, therefore, fails to provide a complete picture for viewers.
First, not all video coverage is cut up. Television stations regularly stream entire press conferences and other events live on their websites. Trials of great interest would be no exception.
Second, edited sound does not guarantee incomplete coverage. Broadcast journalists will often use the most compelling or significant sound of the day within a report that provides context to that bite.
For years, print journalists have employed quotations and summarized hearings, arguments and testimony with zero pushback from attorneys and judges.
Where is the non-anecdotal evidence that proves video coverage is imbued with the ability to prejudice a jury pool, while print coverage is not?
If that data cant be produced, the fallback should be to open public courts up to cameras so more people who dont have time to truck themselves to court are able see inside the judicial system they pay for.
Third, keep cameras out and judges encourage that choppy and unfair coverage they fear. Video will be limited to perp walks, mug shots and interviews with whoever chooses to speak outside court. And most of those who speak, talk on behalf of the victim. This scenario the one that plays out under the current system seems wrought with more potential harm than one in which reporters can use a variety of sound from inside court.
Fourth, the argument against cameras in court wrongly assumes two things: jurors are exceptionally pliant and will allow preconceived notions to affect their verdict.
These assumptions are simply untrue.
To see the fallacy in the first assumption, you need only look at yourself. Do you believe everything you hear or see? Would a defense lawyers argument that the case be dismissed convince you of his or her clients innocence? Would seeing a defendant in court in handcuffs convince you of his or her guilt?
The second assumption, however, is not just incorrect, its, well, prejudicial.
Attorneys and judges against cameras must believe jurors selected by both the prosecution and defense cant set aside suppositions; that their initial inclinations, if there are any, cant be swayed by evidence, testimony and argument during a trial; that they cant follow the judges instructions to avoid any reports, both print and broadcast, regarding the case.
Patrick Doran takes exception to this line of thought.
He served as the foreman in the trail of Mark Scerbo, the man found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Fairport teacher Heather Boyum.
I didnt feel that cameras would have had any effect, Doran said. We were pretty focused on what we had to do and that wouldnt have changed even if there were cameras. It didnt change because there were family members there.
Those family members wanted Scerbo found guilty of the most serious charge, aggravated vehicular homicide.
When Doran and the 11 other jurors found him not guilty of that top charge, the Boyum family and many in the community were dismayed.
Doran says he felt the weight of public opinion going into deliberations, but, in the end, he says the 12 followed the instructions and the evidence. They were not influenced or prejudiced by outside forces.
Asked whether video coverage of pre-trial hearings or the trial itself would have tipped the scales in the other direction, Doran said he actually would have appreciated such access.
Its absolutely good for people to see what happens even if it gets cut up, he said. Perhaps there would be less judgment of a jury if they get to watch what we watch.
For now, though, in New York State, thats usually not possible.
If you want to let your local state lawmaker know how you feel about this issue, weve provided emails below.
District 56 (City of Rochester, Greece, Brighton, and Hilton) Joseph Robach firstname.lastname@example.org
District 62 (Spencerport and Brockport) George Maziarz email@example.com
District 55 (City of Rochester, Irondequoit, Penfield, Fairport, Penfield, Rush, and Victor) Ted OBrien - Obrien@nysenate.gov
District 61 (City of Rochester, Chili and LeRoy) Michael Ranzenhofer firstname.lastname@example.org
District 59 (Henrietta and Avon) Patrick Gallivan email@example.com
District 54 (Webster, Newark, Canandaigua, and Lyons) Michael Nozzolio firstname.lastname@example.org
District 130 (Wayne County) Bob Oaks OaksR@assembly.state.ny.us
District 131 (Ontario County) Brian Kolb KolbB@assembly.state.ny.us
District 133 (Pittsford, Geneseo, Mt. Morris, and Dansville) NojayW@assembly.state.ny.us
District 134 (Greece, Hilton and Spencerport) Seat is currently vacant
District 135 (Fairport and Webster) Mark Johns JohnsM@assembly.state.ny.us
District 136 (Irondequoit and City of Rochester) Joseph Morelle MorelleJ@assembly.state.ny.us
District 137 (Gates and City of Rochester) David Gantt GanttD@assembly.state.ny.us
District 138 (Henrietta and City of Rochester) Harry Bronson BronsonH@assembly.state.ny.us
District 139 (Brockport, Albion and LeRoy) Stephen Hawley HawleyS@assembly.state.ny.us
District 147 (Wyoming County) - David DiPietro DiPietroD@assembly.state.ny.us