The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," ran in the Champaign News Gazette.
Since we now see news coverage of Illinois court proceedings, cameras must be allowed in courtrooms. Can trials be broadcast live? If photography is now permitted, can anybody take pictures in a courtroom?
Cameras are permitted in many Illinois courtrooms, but not all. Since cameras were first allowed in 2012, a few trials have been broadcast live.
And, only the press, with advance notice and permission from a judge, can take pictures. The general public can take photographs.
Courtroom photography was once common. That’s how we have pictures of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial, and of the Lindbergh kidnapping-murder trial in 1935.
But in 1965 the U.S. Supreme Court said that cameras in the courtroom had deprived Billy Sol Estes of a fair trial, and overturned his fraud conviction. That put a temporary end to much courtroom photography.
Illinois court rules, for example, prohibited any kind of courtroom photography until 1984. Then, the door opened very slightly to cameras—but only in the Appellate and Supreme Courts
As a result, you can now listen to recordings of arguments before the Appellate Court, and watch video of Illinois Supreme Court arguments. To sample that, go to: illinoiscourts.gov/media/on_demand.asp
Those courts don’t hold trials, though, which is what most people want to see. So in 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court began to experiment with “extended media coverage” (i.e., cameras) in 11 counties. That’s how we occasionally see video of court proceedings on TV, and pictures in the paper.
That pilot program has expanded so that 51 counties now allow cameras in their courtrooms. And last March, the rules permitting cameras in the courtroom became permanent. It’s no longer just a “pilot program.”
Those rules permit each judicial circuit to apply for permission to allow cameras. Sixteen out of the 24 circuits, including the Sixth Circuit that contains Champaign County, now have obtained permission to allow cameras. The nearby Fifth Circuit, that contains Vermilion County, has not gotten permission.
The rules clearly state that “the rights of extended media coverage may be exercised only by news media.” “News media” are generally defined as “established news gathering and reporting agencies.”
The press doesn’t get to photograph anything they want. They have to apply in advance, to cover specific cases. The parties to the case, and any witness who’s going to testify, can object. The judge handling the case decides whether to allow cameras, and whether to grant a witness’s objection to being photographed or recorded.
When cameras are allowed for a particular case, they’re restricted. A maximum of 2 TV cameras are allowed, along with 2 still photographers, with 2 cameras each. Cameras and photographers can’t move around, and no extra lighting is permitted.
Jury selection can’t be photographed or recorded at all. And once selected, jurors aren’t supposed to be photographed or recorded.
Cameras in the courtroom has mostly resulted in news highlights. But live trial coverage is permitted. A Kankakee County murder trial was the first to be broadcast live, in 2012.
Updated: November 2016