449 U.S. 560 (1981), 79-1260, Chandler v. Florida

Docket Nº:No. 79-1260
Citation:449 U.S. 560, 101 S.Ct. 802, 66 L.Ed.2d 740
Party Name:Chandler v. Florida
Case Date:January 26, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 560

449 U.S. 560 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 802, 66 L.Ed.2d 740




No. 79-1260

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 26, 1981

Argued November 12, 1980



The Florida Supreme Court, following a pilot program for televising judicial proceedings in the State, promulgated a revised Canon 3A (7) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. The Canon permits electronic media and still photography coverage of judicial proceedings, subject to the control of the presiding judge and to implementing guidelines placing on trial judges obligations to protect the fundamental right of the accused in a criminal case to a fair trial. Appellants, who were charged with a crime that attracted media attention, were convicted after a jury trial in a Florida trial court over objections that the televising and broadcast of parts of their trial denied them a fair and impartial trial. The Florida District Court of Appeal affirmed, finding no evidence that the presence of a television camera hampered appellants in presenting their case, deprived them of an impartial jury, or impaired the fairness of the trial. The Florida Supreme Court denied review. The Florida courts did not construe Estes v. Texas, 381 U.S. 532, as laying down a per se constitutional rule [101 S.Ct. 803] barring broadcast coverage under all circumstances.

Held: The Constitution does not prohibit a state from experimenting with a program such as is authorized by Florida's Canon 3A(7). Pp. 569-583.

(a) This Court has no supervisory jurisdiction over state courts, and, in reviewing a state court judgment, is confined to evaluating it in relation to the Federal Constitution. P. 570.

(b) Estes v. Texas, supra, did not announce a constitutional rule that all photographic, radio, and television coverage of criminal trials is inherently a denial of due process. It does not stand as an absolute ban on state experimentation with an evolving technology, which, in terms of modes of mas communication, was in its relative infancy in 1964 when Estes was decided, and is, even now, in a state of continuing change. Pp. 570-574.

(c) An absolute constitutional ban on broadcast coverage of trials cannot be justified simply because there is a danger that, in some cases, conduct of the broadcasting process or prejudicial broadcast accounts of pretrial and trial events may impair the ability of jurors to decide the issue of guilt or innocence uninfluenced by extraneous matter. The appropriate safeguard against juror prejudice is the defendant's right

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to demonstrate that the media's coverage of his case -- be it printed or broadcast compromised the ability of the particular jury that heard the case to adjudicate fairly. Pp. 574-575.

(d) Whatever may be the "mischievous potentialities [of broadcast coverage] for intruding upon the detached atmosphere which should always surround the judicial process," Estes v. Texas, supra at 587, at present no one has presented empirical data sufficient to establish that the mere presence of the broadcast media in the courtroom inherently has an adverse effect on that process under all circumstances. Here, appellants have offered nothing to demonstrate that their trial was subtly tainted by broadcast coverage -- let alone that all broadcast trials would be so tainted. Pp. 575-580.

(e) Nor have appellants shown either that the media's coverage of their trial -- printed or broadcast -- compromised the jury's ability to judge them fairly, or that the broadcast coverage of their particular trial had an adverse impact on the trial participants sufficient to constitute a denial of due process. Pp. 580-582.

(f) Absent a showing of prejudice of constitutional dimensions to these appellants, there is no reason for this Court either to endorse or to invalidate Florida's experiment. P. 582.

376 So.2d 1157, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 583. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 586. STEVENS, J., took no part in the decision of the case.

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BURGER, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented on this appeal is whether, consistent with constitutional guarantees, a state may provide for radio, television, and still photographic coverage of a criminal trial for public broadcast, notwithstanding the objection of the accused.



Background. Over the past 50 years, some criminal cases characterized as "sensational" have been subjected to extensive coverage by news media, sometimes seriously interfering with the conduct of the proceedings and creating a setting wholly inappropriate for the administration of justice. Judges, lawyers, and others soon became concerned, and in 1937, after study, the American Bar Association House of Delegates

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adopted Judicial Canon 35, declaring that all photographic and broadcast coverage of courtroom proceedings should be prohibited. [101 S.Ct. 804]1 In 1962, the House of Delegates amended Canon 35 to proscribe television coverage as well. 77 A.B.A. Rep. 61611 (1952). The Canon's proscription was reaffirmed in 1972, when the Code of Judicial Conduct replaced the Canons of Judicial Ethics and Canon 3A(7) superseded Canon 35. E. Thode, Reporter's Notes to Code of Judicial Conduct 5659 (1973). Cf. Fed.Rule Crim.Proc. 53. A majority of the states, including Florida, adopted the substance of the ABA provision and its amendments. In Florida, the rule was embodied in Canon 3A(7) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.2

In February, 1978, the American Bar Association Committee on Fair Trial-Free Press proposed revised standards. These

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included a provision permitting courtroom coverage by the electronic media under conditions to be established by local rule and under the control of the trial judge, but only if such coverage was carried out unobtrusively and without affecting the conduct of the trial.3 The revision was endorsed by the ABA's Standing Committee on Standards for Criminal Justice and by its Committee on Criminal Justice and the Media, but it was rejected by the House of Delegates on February 12, 1979. 65 A.B.A.J. 304 (1979).

In 1978, based upon its own study of the matter, the Conference of State Chief Justices, by a vote of 94 to 1, approved a resolution to allow the highest court of each state to promulgate standards and guidelines regulating radio, television, and other photographic coverage of court proceedings.4

The Florida Program. In January, 1975, while these developments were unfolding, the Post-Newsweek Stations of Florida petitioned the Supreme Court of Florida urging a change in Florida's Canon 3A(7). In April, 1975, the court invited presentations in the nature of a rulemaking proceeding, and, in January, 1976, announced an experimental program for televising one civil and one criminal trial under specific guidelines. Petition of Post-Newsweek Stations, Florida, Inc., 327 So.2d 1. These initial guidelines required the consent of all parties. It developed, however, that, in practice, such consent could not be obtained. The Florida Supreme Court then supplemented its order and established a new 1-year pilot program

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during [101 S.Ct. 805] which the electronic media were permitted to cover all judicial proceedings in Florida without reference to the consent of participants, subject to detailed standards with respect to technology and the conduct of operators. In re Petition of Post-Newsweek Stations, Florida, Inc., 347 So.2d 402 (1977). The experiment began in July, 1977, and continued through June, 1978.

When the pilot program ended, the Florida Supreme Court received and reviewed briefs, reports, letters of comment, and studies. It conducted its own survey of attorneys, witnesses, jurors, and court personnel through the Office of the State Court Coordinator. A separate survey was taken of judges by the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges. The court also studied the experience of 6 States5 that had, by 1979, adopted rules relating to electronic coverage of trials, as well as that of the 10 other States that, like Florida, were experimenting with such coverage.6

Following its review of this material, the Florida Supreme Court concluded

that, on balance, there [was] more to be gained than lost by permitting electronic media coverage of judicial proceedings subject to standards for such coverage.

In re Petition of Post-Newsweek Stations, Florida, Inc., 370 So.2d 764, 780 (1979). The Florida court was of the view that, because of the significant effect of the courts on the day-to-day lives of the citizenry, it was essential that the people have confidence in the process. It felt that broadcast coverage

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of trials would contribute to wider public acceptance and understanding of decisions. Ibid. Consequently, after revising the 1977 guidelines to reflect its evaluation of the pilot program, the Florida Supreme Court promulgated a revised Canon 3A(7). Id. at 781. The Canon provides:

Subject at all times to the authority of the presiding judge to (i) control the conduct of proceedings before the court, (ii) ensure decorum and prevent distractions, and (iii) ensure the fair administration of justice in the pending cause, electronic media and still photography coverage of public judicial proceedings in the appellate and trial courts of this state shall be allowed in accordance with standards of conduct and technology promulgated by the Supreme Court of Florida.


The implementing guidelines specify in detail the kind of electronic equipment to be used and the manner of its use. Id. at 778-779, 783-784. For example, no more than one television camera and only one camera technician are allowed. Existing...

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