Judge Says No Twittering From The Courtroom

from the keep-it-quiet dept

There have been many debates over whether or not it's appropriate to blog or Twitter from the courtroom -- in fact, just last week I attended a short conference at the US courthouse in San Francisco about how the court system is dealing with such things. While you might understand why it's barred for jury members or participants in the trial to use such things, it does seem a bit excessive for a judge to bar reporters from Twittering as well, but that's exactly what's happened. The judge ruled that it was a form of a "broadcast," which is prohibited (why broadcasts are prohibited is a separate topic for a separate day, though it doesn't really make any sense).


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  1.  
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    jerome (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 4:49am

    Luckily this is not the case everywhere

    For one time I can tell a good news about a Techdirt post: Twittering is considered perfectly fine for journalists in a courtroom in France.

    As reported by a well-known blogger-lawyer, several journalists cover prominent trials. See http://www.maitre-eolas.fr/post/2009/09/25/Peut-on-twitter-un-proc%C3%A8s

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    123, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 5:09am

    Gadgets

    Courtrooms are not as restrictive as movie theaters

     

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  3.  
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    John Duncan Yoyo (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 5:16am

    Re: Gadgets

    I've never seen anyone held without bail for contempt of cinema.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 5:20am

    The last absolute dictatorship...

    Judges have a lot of latitude about what they can do in their courtroom unless there are specific laws regarding the action. As for broadcasts being prohibited, that is state-by-state (and maybe county or city controlled). You need to talk to whoever prohibited broadcasts (and Twitter is a broadcast - albeit relatively crude). The only thing about Twittering would drive me nuts is hearing the person sitting next to me pushing buttons endlessly. I might be tempted to grab his cell phone and throw it against the wall.

     

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  5.  
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    Shaun Wilson (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 5:29am

    2 seperate issues

    I think the judge was correct in defining twittering as being a type of broadcast. A separate issue is weather broadcasts should be allowed - and I think they clearly should be - how can people obey the law if they can't see how it is applied?

     

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  6.  
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    Judge Dredd, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 5:41am

    Re: Re: Gadgets

    But I have seen some that should have been...
    I AM THE LAW!

     

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  7.  
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    Tor (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 5:44am

    Re: 2 seperate issues

    "I think the judge was correct in defining twittering as being a type of broadcast"

    I agree.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 5:45am

    What the law says...

    California permits media coverage in the courtroom. There are some rules that need to be followed to permit "broadcasts," or even "media" coverage. But it appears that the vast majority of the time (more than 80%), such coverage is permitted in California.

    California:

    http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/documents/cameras.pdf

    San Francisco:

    http://www.sfsuperiorcourt.org/index.aspx?page=21

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 5:49am

    Re: What the law says...

    The link is for U.S. federal courts, which have their own rules. Unsure of who would be the governing body to change the rules for the federal courts. Congress, maybe?

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 6:29am

    Re: 2 seperate issues

    yet another voice from the internet agrees with you. I would also say that since these are PUBLIC trials one should be able to BROADCAST them to the PUBLIC.

     

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  11.  
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    BobinBaltimore (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 6:49am

    Re: 2 seperate issues

    Agreed, it is two separate issues.

    On the broadcasting from inside the courtroom front, it's just not as simple as broadcasting is allowed or isn't. Certain areas and events in court need to be blacked out in order to protect jurors, witnesses, confidential or embarrassing information. With a court operated TV feed, they can manage that relatively easily and reliably. But if everyone has a laptop or smartphone, there is NOTHING to prevent someone from broadcasting names, information, even juror descriptions. Hell, why not pictures, video and audio? Clearly this is a problem for any court proceeding open to the public, even before technology was a factor. But in-person activities can be managed to a degree and are not realtime and don't carry the recording risk. But now, the means to record and broadcast realtime are nearly ubiquitous and only traceable after the fact...once the damaging bell is rung. Most devices which can Twitter can also capture rich media.

    There has to be a balance between the rights of those attending court and those involved in the case - plaintiff, defendant, jurors, witnesses.

    I know in my county courthouse, no cell/smart phones or PDAs are allowed at all, except for court officers.

     

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  12.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 7:51am

    Re: The last absolute dictatorship...

    > and Twitter is a broadcast - albeit relatively crude

    If Twitter is broadcast, then posting anything to the internet is a broadcast. If a person in the gallery watching the trial decided to check TechDirt during a lull in the action and posted a comment about one of the articles here, would that be a broadcast also?

     

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  13.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 8:08am

    Re: Re: The last absolute dictatorship...

    I'd say the difference between broadcast, twittering, or sending a messenger pigeon outside the courtroom is irrelevant, obviously what they want to forbid is any kind of communication from within the court while it's in session. So it makes sense that it's a "broadcast" even if by that standard any internet post is a broadcast (I don't think they would allow you to FTP upload files to your web host from your ssh-enabled cellphone either, if they even knew what it is - a cellphone, I mean).

    On the other hand, why they forbid communication to the outside or whatever, I have no idea. Maybe they want to secure the movie rights, and make sure there are no leaks?

     

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  14.  
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    Jason, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 8:36am

    A little too early

    As others have mentioned, the primary concern is that the medium involved can be controlled to prevent misconduct, perceived or actual, as well as accidental procedural errors that could cause a mistrial. This is similar in concept to a story that Mike covered previously where witnesses were texting to each other within the courtroom.

    It's important to protect against tainting process. When news feeds are allowed within the courtroom, it's because well established controls have been put in place. When a new medium is introduced, it's obviously going to take time to put proper procedures in place.

    The judge didn't say "No Twittering in the Courtroom - EVER!" He said it needs to be treated like any other broadcast medium - needing proper procedures and controls in place.

    The ruling as described here seems fair and balanced and also open-ended enough to allow for courtroom tweeting to be evaluated as a possible channel. It's just a little too early to expect a court to suddenly open up to in-court tweeting without careful consideration of the impact. Give it time.

     

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  15.  
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    Dave, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 10:09am

    Re: A little too early

    Yea, the first tweets were only sent 3 years ago, the courts should be up to speed by 2020...

     

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  16.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 12:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: The last absolute dictatorship...

    > obviously what they want to forbid is any
    > kind of communication from within the court
    > while it's in session.

    Of course that standard would make even sending an e-mail to your spouse a "broadcast", which negates even the basic common-sense definition of the word.

     

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  17.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Nov 10th, 2009 @ 12:12pm

    Re: Re: Re: The last absolute dictatorship...

    > obviously what they want to forbid is any
    > kind of communication from within the court
    > while it's in session

    Also, unless they basically confiscate all mobile devices from everyone as they enter the courtroom and hold anyone in contempt who is found using them for any reason ("broadcast" or otherwise), there's no way to enforce a Twitter ban among the non-participants in the gallery.

    If I'm there just watching the trial and I Twitter something during the proceedings, at the end of the day, I'm walking away from the court and probably never coming back. By the time the judge becomes aware of my tweet, I'm long gone. He really has no remedy to punish such people like he would with the jurors or the litigants in the case, especially considering many people Twitter under anonymous screen names anyway.

    What's the judge going to do? Serve subpoenas on an out-of-state corporation, demanding IP address data, then serve more subpoenas on ISPs (also likely out-of-state) to get subscriber info, then swear out an arrest warrant and spend police resources tracking down that person and having them arrested and charged with contempt... all for a Twitter post?

    Any judge that takes that kind of heavy-handed, costly, and abusive approach to enforcing something which isn't even a violation of the law, but rather merely a violation of the judge's personal preferences, would likely find him/herself on the wrong end of an ethics investigation in short order.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 1:34pm

    Re: Re: The last absolute dictatorship...

    Based on the court's decision, yes.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 1:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The last absolute dictatorship...

    The last courthouse I was in had a big sign stating that all electronic devices were to be turned off in any courtroom (before the nitpickers jump in, the way it was phrased excluded hearing aids, pacemakers and the like). I suspect that if someone noticed you had a cell phone turned on or a computer (tough to hide a computer in a courtroom), it would likely be confiscated until you left the building.

     

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