Alan Riquelmy: So that everyone can see
Editor’s note: The following was submitted as a brief in Nevada County Superior Court in an attempt to get a camera and video recorder into the murder trial of Sean Bryant and Michael McCauley, both of whom are accused in the 2018 death of Stan Norman. A judge has tentatively approved most of the request. The trial is set for later this month.
The Constitution of the United States is a document full of conflict.
It was designed this way, and the changes made to it over two centuries has perpetuated this conflict.
The three branches of government are meant to be in opposition. They keep each other in check, ensuring no one branch accumulates too much power.
Likewise, the amendments to the Constitution can conflict with each other. The freedom of the press is enshrined in the First Amendment, while the right to trial by an impartial jury is granted in the Sixth Amendment.
At times, courts have had to restrict the press from a courtroom, because it would have interfered with a defendant’s right to trial by an impartial jury.
The state of California vs. Sean Bryant and Michael McCauley is not one of these cases.
The rights of the defendants are in no way infringed by allowing a representative of The Union take pictures and record video during this trial’s opening statements, closing arguments and verdict. No potential juror can be affected by this coverage because jury selection will not be covered by the media. The first time a camera or recording device would be used in court is after a jury is seated. Jurors will by that time have received instructions from the Court to avoid any media accounts of the trial. The media will in no way affect the ability of counsel to select a fair and unbiased jury.
This is just one factor the Court can consider when making its decision whether to allow a camera and video recording device in the courtroom. Other factors include the importance of maintaining trust and confidence in the judicial system, the importance of promoting public access to that system, and the nature of the case.
I will address these in reverse order.
The death of Stan Norman is arguably one of the most high-profile murder cases in Nevada County in the past several years. In 2018 a story about this case was the third-most viewed story for that year on The Union website. Any death of this nature is newsworthy, but the accusations made in this case — the very nature of this case — elevate that level of newsworthiness and warrant a camera and video recording device in the courtroom.
Nevada County Superior Court is open to anyone, but it’s a small number of people who have the time to visit in person and watch trial proceedings. That number has only dropped with the advent of COVID-19, which has at times led to restricted seating in the courtroom and masking. Even now, with a new mask mandate imposed Aug. 20, people are less likely to visit the courthouse.
Permitting a camera and video recording device into the courtroom not only promotes public access, it enables it. Readers of The Union in print and online can see the people that appear in the stories. They will receive a fuller picture of the justice system and the people who bring it to life.
Finally, allowing a camera and video recording device in the courtroom not only maintains public trust and confidence in the judicial system, it builds upon it. The courtroom is already open. A camera and recording device only expand that, bringing in more viewers to the county’s legal system. They can see, with their own eyes, how their local courts operate, and hear the arguments and motions for themselves.
They can then base their trust and confidence in the judicial system on firsthand knowledge.
The defense attorneys in this case have said they oppose a camera and video recording device in the courtroom. However, they failed to meet the initial deadline imposed by this Court to file briefs on the issue, and missed a second deadline when this Court gave them another chance.
I once heard an attorney argue to jurors that they shouldn’t leave their common sense at the courthouse door when reaching a verdict. That remains true. Expanding the court’s openness, allowing a camera and video recording device to capture opening statements, closing arguments and a verdict, and enabling more people to view these proceedings in open court is commonsense.
This community wants to read about, see and watch this trial. This Court granting The Union’s motion will allow that to happen.
Editor of The Union
Alan Riquelmy is the editor of The Union. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 530-477-4249
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