Technology changes courtroom dynamic

April 7, 2011

Over the past few years, advances in technology have extended beyond cameras in the courtroom. Blogging has made its way into several courtrooms in the U.S. and Memphis is one city that seems to be following this new trend.

In February of 2009, the Noura Jackson murder trial was the first instance blogging was allowed in a Memphis courtroom. Jackson was tried and convicted for the stabbing death of her mother, Jennifer Jackson, 39, at their east Memphis home. 

During Jackson’s trial, reporters from local media outlets were permitted to bring laptops into the courtroom and provide the community with instantaneous details regarding each day’s trial proceedings.

Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft, who presided over the Jackson case, said he thinks live blogging is helpful in educating the public about the facts of a case.

“Before we were just at the mercy of the news media,” Craft said. “[Now] people can log-in, they can go to the bathroom, come back and not miss any testimony because they can look back on the blog. So that’s helping a lot.”

Watch Judge Craft as he talks about blogging in the courtroom.

Local criminal court judge, John Fowlkes, initially felt that blogging from the courtroom could potentially be disruptive and that it could have an impact on the jury. However, he has noticed no apparent change in courtroom demeanor.

Two Memphis defense attorneys Arthur Quinn and Charles Mitchell have had no problems with blogging from the courtroom. 

“I think [blogging] draws interest,” Mitchell said, “and pulls people in to watch what is going on, and I think that’s a good thing.”

In fact, Arthur Quinn stated that he compared his personal notes from the Noura Jackson trial each day with 
The Commercial Appeal’s blog.

However, both agree that blogging is one person’s perspective of court proceedings and has the potential to produce bias. This could affect future juror members of individuals who receive a new trial.

“What the jury sees is different from what one person is able to blog,” Mitchell said. 

Former Sgt. Tim Helldorfer pointed out that since the public is allowed to sit in on a trial, blogging is not as intrusive as some critics believe. 

“I don’t have a problem with it,” Helldorfer said. “If somebody wanted to come down and sit in they could, so what’s the difference. It’s an open courtroom.”

Amy Weirich, former prosecutor, emphasizes that her job is not impacted by blogging in the courtroom. 

Watch an interview of Amy Weirich as she discusses media coverage of trials.

“All that we are focused on as prosecutors,” Weirich said, “is the jury, the judge and the job that we are doing in that courtroom. [I’m not interested in] whether bloggers are getting the right information or explaining a legal issue correctly.”

However, Judge John Fogleman, former prosecutor in the West Memphis Three trials, said that blogging will never be allowed in his Arkansas courtroom because electronic devices simply cause too much distraction.

Currently, blogging is permitted in various courtrooms across the nation. The consensus among local government officials is that blogging can be beneficial to the public, as long as it does not interfere with the legal system.


Story by Lauren Lee

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