Since the invention of television in 1927, the American legal system faced drastic changes. In 1935, the first trial was broadcast to the public in the case of Bruno Hauptmann. During the trial, “[e]laborate telegraph equipment” was installed in the courtroom, with “sound and motion picture equipment . . . plainly visible in the [courtroom] balcony.” From 1935 on, broadcasting technology has been utilized in the courtroom to convey the inner workings of certain courts to the public, which has stimulated debate over whether the use of this technology is conducive to a fair trial under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The Supreme Court of the United States, in Estes v. Texas, initially found broadcasting within the courtroom to be unconstitutional under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments because it infringed on the defendant’s right to a fair trial. In a later case, Chandler v. Florida, the Court reversed its course, recognizing that technological conditions had changed to such an extent as to render the use of broadcasting technology in that case constitutional. However, federal courts to this day remain cautious and refuse to permit cameras in the courtroom on a permanent basis, although a recent rule permits some courts to experiment with broadcasting in the courtroom.
With the rise of social media, studies on fair trials have reemerged to encompass these changing technological circumstances. In particular, studies have examined how the jury and trial participants’ use of social media platforms like Twitter alters the course of a trial. However, one issue that has not been thoroughly addressed is how livestreaming trials on social media platforms, which consists of rewatchable videos and time-stamped commentary by news media and the public, might inhibit a criminal defendant’s right to a fair trial.
This Note argues that social media livestreaming involves trial coverage so pervasive that it threatens the constitutionality of the high-profile criminal trials involved, and thus is worthy of preventative measures. Part I will establish the background and history of broadcasting trials and court proceedings. Particularly, this Part will focus on examining the constitutional rights at issue, the Supreme Court decisions regarding broadcasting in the courtroom, and the subsequent federal and state court broadcasting policies. Part II will discuss the use of social media livestreaming capabilities in the courtroom during high-profile criminal trials and how these livestreaming capabilities prove problematic. This Part will also argue that livestreaming trials might be too burdensome on a defendant’s right to a fair trial, and thus could be unconstitutional. Part III will outline and propose possible remedies that can be implemented at the state level to counterbalance the constitutional burdens livestreaming imposes so as to limit the prejudice a criminal defendant might experience at trial.