Cameras are barred from criminal court proceedings in Maryland, but a bill introduced in the House of Delegates seeks to allow media representatives to record criminal sentencing proceedings with permission of the court.
“As the press association, we always feel like more transparency is better,” said Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association.
Snyder said the press association is cautiously optimistic about House Bill 81, which appears to provide straightforward instructions for media outlets.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Frank Conaway Jr., D-Baltimore City, provides an exception to Maryland’s prohibition on cameras in the courtroom and allows media coverage by “a news-gathering or educational entity” of criminal sentencings.
The media outlet must file a written request with the clerk of the court at least 24 hours prior to the start of the hearing, according to the bill, and identify the hearing, dates, pooling arrangements, equipment and media representative attending the hearing. The clerk is then instructed to notify the parties, and the presiding judge can grant or deny the request.
The Maryland Judiciary is opposed to the bill, according to spokeswoman Terri Charles, and Baltimore City District Judge Nathan Braverman will testify on behalf of the Judiciary during the bill’s hearing Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee.
Braverman was the chair of a committee tasked with studying media coverage of criminal proceedings in 2007 and the possibility of extending coverage to permit photography and electronic broadcasting.
The committee’s 2008 report specifically references “undue emphasis on the sentencing phase of the proceeding” as the portion of a trial most vulnerable to commercial exploitation.
“The sentencing judge or jury in these types of cases hear the most humiliating and heart-rending victim impact testimony that is of no interest to the general public, except to satisfy a prurient interest in the suffering of others,” the report states.
The committee concluded that the Judiciary should oppose any revision to the criminal procedure article.
A similar bill was last introduced in 2008 and received an unfavorable report from the House Judiciary Committee.
But Snyder said that, as technology has changed since 2008, so has reporting. Online coverage, including video, and social media have become increasingly important tools in the intervening years.
“Eight years ago, that’s a lifetime ago in terms of how reporters tell stories,” she said.
Conaway, the bill’s sponsor, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.