Essay on Filming Jury Deliberations for Public Television

Essay on Filming Jury Deliberations for Public Television

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Filming Jury Deliberations for Public Television


A whirlwind of controversy arose in November 2002, when Judge Ted Poe, ruled that PBS’s Frontline could film jury deliberations in the trial of Cedric Harrison, 17, who faces the death penalty for allegedly killing a man during a car-jacking. In validating his ruling, Poe held that “cameras in courts keep the system honest” and are an important tool for civic education.1 Poe approved Frontline’s proposal, in which an unobtrusive ceiling camera would be used and no full-time cameraman would be necessary. Frontline had planned to edit the deliberations and broadcast them approximately one year following the verdict as part of a two-to-three hour documentary that would spotlight Harris County, whose juries have sentenced more people to death than juries in any other county in the U.S.2

Opinions regarding potential camera usage are starkly divided between the Harrison camp and the prosecution. Harrison, his mother, and his lawyers are in favor of the filming, and all signed waivers saying they would not use the film on appeal or to seek a new trial. Conversely, the prosecution, lead by District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for the banning of the cameras on grounds that the prospect of being filmed could influence the jury’s selection and its deliberation.

By custom—not by law—trial jury deliberations traditionally are secret in Texas. The use of cameras in courthouses has been left to the discretion of judges. Deliberations in criminal cases have been taped before, but never in a capital punishment case. Texas law mandates grand jury deliberations be secret, but there is no such statute regarding trial juries. ...


... middle of paper ...


...s.census.gov/qfd/states/48000.html> (22 May 2004).

5. <http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cp01.pdf> (22 May 2004).

6. Jeffrey J. Pokorak. “Probing the Prosecutor's Perspective: Race of the
Discretionary Actors.” Cornell Law Review 83 (1998): 6+.

7. Baldus, D. et al. “Race Discrimination and the Death Penalty in the Post
Furman Era: An Empirical and Legal Overview with Preliminary Findings from
Philadelphia.” Cornell Law Review 83 (1998): 1638-1770.

8. <http://academic.udayton.edu/race/03justice/death02.htm> (22 May 2004).

9. <http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/tables/drracetab.htm (22 May 2004).

10. Adam Liptak. “Inviting TV Into Jury Room in a Capital Case,” New York Times, 26
November 2002, sec. A.

11. <http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org> (May 23, 2004).

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