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'I Just Wanted to Record the Funny Parts'

Attention citizen journalists: That no-cameras-in-the-courtroom rule includes your video-enabled cell phone. In what the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is calling "an impromptu case of new media meeting traditional courtroom rules," a North Carolina man learned that lesson the hard way last week. "Camera-happy" over his new phone's video feature, Jaime Cornelius Brown started recording witness testimony as he sat in the Fayetteville courtroom of District Court Judge Robert Stiehl. After court officials spotted Brown in the act, Judge Stiehl ruled him in contempt, seizing his brand-new phone, fining him $421 and putting him on 18 months of supervised probation.

As reported by The Fayetteville Observer, Brown was in the courtroom to lend moral support to a friend who was scheduled to appear on an assault charge. As his friend waited for his case to be called, Brown started recording because he found the proceedings entertaining. "You know how witnesses get up there -- I just wanted to record the funny parts." But a portion of what he recorded was an anything-but-funny domestic violence trial that included testimony from the same police officer who filed the charge against his friend. Brown understood why that might have looked suspicious, he later said, but he had no idea the officer was involved in his friend's case.

A sign outside the courtroom tells visitors to turn off their cell phones, but Judge Stiehl had told people in the courtroom that they could leave their phones on as long as they muted the ringers. Using those phones as video recorders was a different matter altogether for the judge. He expressed concern that video taken in court could be used to undermine the justice system, noting that criminals sometimes try to take pictures to identify witnesses. Besides, the judge added, "It's just not appropriate to tape domestic violence trials for entertainment purposes." Tell that to Jerry Springer.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 12, 2008 at 11:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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