Minnesota courts to allow broader use of cameras in cases

Minnesota Supreme court hearing on cameras in courts.
Attorney Max Keller and Minnesota Bar Association president Sonia Miller-Van Oort told the Minnesota Supreme Court the bar association opposed expanding use of cameras in courts at a hearing at the State Capitol on April 25, 2018. Now an order from Chief Justice Lorie Gildea will allow more cameras in courts.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Minnesota’s courts are changing their rules to allow more audio and visual coverage of cases, under an order issued Wednesday.

The rule change was made in an order from the state Supreme Court. Starting in January, it will open up more avenues to cameras and other recording options in criminal cases, including livestreaming.

Judges will be able to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow the audio-visual coverage without consent of the participating parties in the case. There would still be restrictions on jury selection, certain witness testimony and if coverage would expose someone to harm or intimidation.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea says in her order that the change will create some challenges, but she wrote that the public good would outweigh them. 

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The rules, she wrote, “will promote transparency and confidence in the basic fairness that is an essential component of our system of justice in Minnesota and protect the constitutional rights and safety of all participants in criminal proceedings in the State.” 

Gildea wrote that even with the modifications, Minnesota’s rules “will remain more restrictive than many other states.”

In a dissent, Justice Ann McKeig says it could make life harder for people sharing embarrassing or sensitive details in testimony. She also questioned the ability of courts in smaller counties to accommodate the change, although the rule provides exceptions where security issues or courthouse facility limitations “would render coverage impractical.”

McKeig also noted that allowing more video coverage could have a disproportionate impact on communities of color because there is a public perception that most criminal cases involve people of color. McKeig wrote that the court should seek more information before giving greater access to audio and video coverage.

“It is imperative for our court to obtain and consider data on how expanding access to cameras in the courtroom would disparately impact communities of color because expanding access could exacerbate these already prevalent issues,” McKeig wrote.

Gildea wrote in her order that the courts would continue to monitor whether the new rules had an adverse impact on people based on their race, gender or economic status.

Several media organizations and groups that promote government openness advocated for the change. Associations for state prosecutors, public defenders, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault and other survivor advocacy groups opposed the changes or urged caution.

Minnesota has some experience with televised trials.

Broadcast coverage was allowed in the prosecution of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in the murder of George Floyd. At the time, the judge cited limitations in courthouse access due to COVID-19 as one factor. Aspects of the trial of Kim Potter, a former Brooklyn Center police officer who was convicted the killing of motorist Daunte Wright, were also broadcast

Audio and video coverage would remain prohibited in cases in drug courts, mental health courts, veterans courts except when participants consent for “stories in the public interest.”