IN A REMARKABLE display of solicitude for the people involved in criminal trials, the Maryland House of Delegates has rejected the guidance of both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Maryland Court of Appeals from the state's criminal courts. Less than a month ago, the Supreme Court said such devices could be used to photograph, televise and record trials. And late last summer, Maryland's highest court authorized a carefully controlled experiment with them.
This legislation is needed, according to the debate on the House floor, to ensure that Maryland's courtrooms do not become circus tents, that defendants get fair trials and that witnesses not be unnecessarily embarrassed. Those same reasons were presented to -- and rejected by -- the judges of both courts.
It took the news media a quarter of a century to persuade the judges that these three evils do not automatically flow from the presence of cameras and sound recorders. In the early years demonstrations of all kinds were conducted before meetings of lawyers and judges. More recently, trials have been photographed and televised in some states. In no instance since these experiments with actual trials began has there been any identifiable impact on courtroom conduct or the quality of justice. The evidence in favor of opening courtroom doors was so strong that even a group as resistant to change as the judiciary decided television should have its chance.
All that has been rejected out of hand by the Maryland delegates. Acting on the basis of intuition rather than evidence, they have decided that their judgment on this is better than that of the judges. Yet the conduct of trials, the protection of witnesses and the fairness of judicial proceedings are matters traditionally entrusted to judges. The votes cast in the Maryland legislature can only be regarded as an expression of "no confidence" in that state's judges to do their principal job.
Under the restrictions placed on courtroom television by Maryland's Court of Appeals, the chance that any of the harm discussed in the legislature will ever occur is so slight as to be nonexistent. If the state Senate will examine those restrictions and listen to the experiences of other states, it should be persuaded to bury this legislation at the earliest opportunity.