It’s time for cameras in the court

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Indiana and South Dakota are the only two states in the country that still prohibit cameras in trial courts without permission from the states’ supreme courts. Indiana should act before South Dakota does, so we are not embarrassingly last in yet another area.

State Rep. Steve Stemier, D-Jeffersonville, has a proposal to get the state started: Allow news cameras inside the courtrooms of Clark County as a pilot program. None of the county’s circuit court judges seem to oppose the idea, and Stemier said an initial meeting with Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush went well. All involved believe greater transparency will lead to a better public understanding of the judicial system.

They are exactly right.

Trials are meant to be public. At one time that required people to actually attend or to depend on the accounts of reporters. Technology has evolved to allow people to follow the proceedings even if they’re not physically present. The criminal justice system just needs to keep up with technology.

The strongest arguments against the cameras are that they could intimidate witnesses and jurors or that some in the proceedings might have a tendency to “play to the camera.” But other states have long allowed cameras, and they seem able to handle the potential negative side effects.

And the potential good so outweighs the potential bad. If people have a better understanding of what goes on in courtrooms, they are more likely to have faith in the system, and that faith is an essential part of achieving justice. It’s time to bring Indiana courts into the modern era.

Justices have not been completely backward technologically. Cameras have been allowed inside the Indiana Supreme Court and the Indiana Court of Appeals, and both courts have offered webcasts of their hearings since 2001. And they did have an 18-month pilot program in several counties. That was a bust, though, because a camera wasn’t allowed unless everybody involved agreed to it.

So let the pilot proceed, without restrictions. Maybe even more counties can be added tot he experiment — are you paying attention, area legislators?

It’s time to bring Indiana courts into the modern era. Through the Internet, trials would be available for study and discussion forever. What’s the negative argument strong enough to answer that?

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.