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Can Trials Be Streamed in North Carolina?

Recent high-profile trials have been live-streamed with great success. The Depp-Heard defamation trial and Rittenhouse prosecution were widely watched by many across the entire world through new media channels such as YouTube, as well as traditional television broadcasting. Recently, someone asked me if North Carolina would allow cameras into our courtrooms for similar high-profile cases. Remarkably, the Rules of Practice for Superior and District Court already allow them to do so.

Our Rules allow that electronic media (coverage by television, motion picture and still photography cameras, broadcast mics and recorders) shall be allowed in the courtroom under a specific set of conditions.

  • The judge at all times retains the authority to terminate the coverage.
  • Not all proceedings are allowed to be filmed; no adoption proceedings, juvenile proceedings, proceedings held before clerks of court, proceedings held before magistrates, probable cause proceedings, child custody proceedings, divorce proceedings, temporary and permanent alimony proceedings, proceedings for the hearing of motions to suppress evidence, proceedings involving trade secrets, and in camera proceedings (in camera here is Latin for “in chambers,” generally meaning that the proceeding is private).
  • No coverage of police informants, minors, undercover agents, relocated witnesses, and victims of sex crimes and their families.
  • No coverage whatsoever of jurors.
  • No coverage or recording (or audio pickup) of any discussion between attorneys and their clients, between co-counsels, or when attorneys approach the bench.
  • None of the recorded film can be used as evidence in any proceeding subsequent and collateral to, or upon any retrial or appeal of such proceedings.

For those of you in the media out there reading this, there are specific rules for placement and the amount of equipment and personnel. This will vary from courtroom to courtroom, judge to judge. There are also rules for news media for whom to contact, that were designed to prevent the judge from negotiating with news media.

I haven’t seen the inside of a North Carolina courtroom on YouTube or television yet (admittedly I don’t go looking), but public access to courtrooms and proceedings is important, and perhaps North Carolina can begin live-streaming some high-profile cases to draw attention to how the legal system works.