Chandler v. Florida, 449 U.S. 560 (1981)

The Supreme Court ruled in Chandler v. Florida that the Constitution did not require an absolute ban on cameras in the courtroom, marking a significant change in its thinking on the issue. In 1965 in Estes v. Texas, the Court overturned a defendant’s conviction based on its finding that the presence of television cameras had violated his right to a fair trial. Television technology was still fairly primitive at the time, however, and the Estes Court acknowledged that technological improvements that would make cameras more unobtrusive would require a reexamination of the issue. By the time of Chandler, many states had experimented with cameras in the courtroom, and at least ten states allowed them without the consent of the defendant. Florida was one of those states, and in 1981, the Supreme Court reexamined the camera issue when it heard the appeal of two Miami policemen convicted of burglary who claimed that the presence of cameras over their objections had denied them a fair trial. The Supreme Court unanimously disagreed, holding that the presence of television cameras does not inherently violate a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights. While individual defendants retained the ability to show that the presence of cameras had prejudiced their fair trial rights in a specific case, the Court said, an absolute ban on cameras was not justified, given improvements in broadcasting technology. After Chandler, restrictions on cameras were eased in most states and today, all fifty states allow still or video camera coverage for some court proceedings.

KATHLEEN K. OLSON

References and Further Reading

  • Barber, Susanna. News Cameras in the Courtroom: A Free Press-Fair Trial Debate. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1987. 
  • Cohn, Marjorie, and David Dow. Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. 
  • Radio-Television News Directors Association & Foundation. ‘‘Cameras in the Court: A State-by-State Guide,’’ http://www.rtndf.org/foi/scc.shtml. 

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Estes v. Texas, 381 U.S. 532 (1965) 

See also Cameras in the Courtroom; First Amendment and PACs

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