State asks judge to reconsider allowing cameras in courtroom for Floyd trial

Josh Skluzacek/Alex Jokich
Updated: November 30, 2020 07:47 PM
Created: November 30, 2020 09:34 AM

Minnesota prosecutors have asked a judge to reconsider a ruling allowing cameras inside the courtroom during the trial of four former Minneapolis Police officers charged in George Floyd's death.

Earlier this month, Judge Peter Cahill ruled that cameras would be allowed in the courtroom for the first time ever in Minnesota during a criminal trial due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing issues.

For first time ever, cameras to be allowed in court for Minnesota trial

Last week, prosecutors asked Cahill to reconsider based on state law prohibiting video and audio recordings if any witness objects.

In its filing, the state said it never consented to allow audio or video recordings and Cahill's order "upsets that careful balance" outlined in state law.

The state is also saying it "welcomes a public trial" but wants to protect the privacy and safety of witnesses, arguing that state law bars video and audio recording if any witness objects.

The motion states: "Ordinary citizens have been thrust into these proceedings simply because they witnessed George Floyd's death. They should not be forced to sacrifice their privacy or suffer possible threats of intimidation when they perform their civic duty and testify... Live video and audio coverage may be intimidating to some witnesses and make it less likely that they will testify, potentially interfering with a fair trial."

"Privacy is something that I think is sometimes overinflated in situations like this," said Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota. "I would argue that, under normal circumstances, witnesses don't really have an expectation of privacy in the courtroom. Courtrooms are supposed to be in public."

Kirtley said Minnesota is one of the most restrictive states in the country when it comes to laws surrounding cameras in court. Many other states, including nearby Wisconsin, allow proceedings to be recorded and broadcast.

"It isn't just a question of doing justice, but allowing justice to be seen as it is being done," Kirtley said. "We live in a very visual age and I think the public, quite literally, wants to believe what they can see with their own eyes. I mean that is the irony, isn't it, that a case that really began with a video recording might not be available to the public with video images if the attorney general's petition was to be granted."

While Cahill allowed cameras in the courtroom in his order, he said jurors aren't allowed to be shown and Floyd's family is also to be excluded unless they provide advanced written consent.

"If this case is handled properly, I think it will demonstrate that this can work and that it has very positive impact on public understanding of how the courts operate," Kirtley said. "And I think we should stop depriving the public of the right to see what's transpiring in the courtrooms that they pay for."

It is not clear when the judge will make his final decision.

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