Oscar Grant Case: Judge Rejects Courtroom Cameras

By Kamika Dunlap on January 12, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The first proceedings for the Oscar Grant case are underway in Los Angeles.

But the public will not be able to see what goes on during the trial as a judge has rejected courtroom cameras.

The racially charged case involving former Bay Area Rapid Transit Officer (BART) Johannes Mehserle accused of a fatal shooting of an unarmed passenger on New Year's Day last year was moved from Alameda County.

The Los Angeles Times reports, Johannes Mehserle will stand trial for the murder of Oscar Grant before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry in May.

No television cameras will be allowed in the courtroom. Judge Perry rejected a request from Bay Area broadcasters to allow televised courtroom camera coverage of the trial in light of the intense public interest in the shooting death that provoked three days of rioting that damaged dozens of Oakland businesses.

As previously discussed in FindLaw's Common Law blog, the family of the victim, Oscar Grant, has filed a $25 million claim against BART.

Recently, Johntue Caldwell, who was riding BART with Oscar Grant when the tragedy occured, also filed a lawsuit against BART.

The judge in the criminal case has prolonged a gag order issued by an Alameda County judge prohibiting either side in the case from discussing it in public. Texting, the use of laptop computers and all other means of recording or transmitting the proceedings when the trial begins in mid-May will be prohibited.

Judge Perry said his experience of high-profile trials is that allowing cameras in the courtroom "is detrimental to the search for truth and justice." 

But new technology and changed attitudes have begun to tip the scales in a longstanding debate whether to allow cameras in court.

The O.J. Simpson trial is an example of a high profile trial allowing cameras in courtrooms in the state court system in both civil and criminal cases at the judge's discretion.

Here are the pros and cons of the argument for TV cameras in the courtroom.

Pros:The public ought to be able to see what goes on at a trial.

Cons: Jurors may be distracted, witnesses may be intimidated, and lawyers and judges, particularly elected judges, may grand-stand. In short, that defendants may be deprived of their right to a fair trial.

As previously discussed, cameras at the federal level are a newer development and still fairly rare. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski recently announced a pilot program approving cameras in court for the nine Western states within the circuit's jurisdiction.

Currently, only two Federal Appeals Courts allow cameras, the 9th Circuit, overseeing Western states, and the 2nd Circuit, based in New York. 

Also, as recently discussed in FindLaw's Decided, after it was announced that the federal trial over California's ban on same sex marriage would be broadcast on YouTube, the Supreme Court recently ordered otherwise: no broadcast.


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