Courtroom Cameras and the Casey Anthony Trial

By Tom Burton

The trial was a national sensation. A toddler disappeared then the body was found in the woods not far from the house. Hundreds of reporters using the latest technology descended on the murder trial, each trying to get the key information faster than the others. The judge and attorneys were inundated daily by the demands of the press.

As much as this sounds like the Casey Anthony case in Orlando, it actually is the scenario of a trial more than 75 years ago.

In 1935, Bruno Hauptman was tried, convicted and eventually executed in the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh, Jr., the not quite two-year-old son of the famous aviator. Literally called the “Crime of the Century,” the ensuing trial garnered intensive media attention that was so aggressive that it led to a ban on cameras in the courtroom for decades.

Florida was one of the first states to seriously review allowing cameras back into the courtroom, In the 1970s, the state began an experiment allowing electronic media return to courtrooms. At the end of the project in 1979 they reviewed the results. The court did say that the media had no constitutional right to record proceedings, but they concluded that “on balance, there [was] more to be gained than lost by permitting electronic media coverage of judicial proceedings subject to standards for such coverage.”

The key was that the cameras had to be unobtrusive and that they would not disrupt the trial. So for all cases in Florida, including the Casey Anthony trial, the court allows only one photographer in the courtroom for still photos and one for video. The photographers can’t move around the courtroom and their cameras have to be exceptionally quiet.

In high-profile cases, multiple news organizations want access to the photos and video so “pool” coverage is instituted. In that case, the photos and video shot by those single photographers are shared with many other agencies.

For the Casey Anthony trial, the still photography will be provided by the Orlando Sentinel and the video feeds will come from In Session, an afternoon cable program on truTV that covers trials. The photographers will have assigned seats in the front row and both organizations have installed remote-controlled cameras positioned at a second angle in the courtroom. The still cameras will be wrapped in covers specially designed to muffle the shutter noise.

The video from In Session will be shared in a live stream. The Orlando Sentinel has created an internet connection in the courtroom that feeds directly from the photographer’s camera to a server at the Sentinel, allowing for very fast distribution of the photos.

And while this technology seems very cutting edge, the basic approach was in place during the Lindbergh trial. The movie camera filming the witnesses was put in a custom box to dampen the noise it made and it was operated through remote control. And the news services laid down literally hundreds of cables for telegraph reports, allowing them to break news instantly over the “wires.” 

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