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Chief Justice Applauds Media Rules For Courts

January 10, 2013, 5:59 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Chief Justice Applauds Media Rules For Courts

South Dakotans have been able to hear and see exactly what goes on in the state's courtrooms after new rules allowing more media coverage of cases took affect 18 months ago.

Cameras and audio recording devices have been allowed in more the two dozen cases according to South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson.

In South Dakota, cameras are allowed in local courtrooms if the prosecutor, defense attorney and judge all agree to more coverage.

South Dakota also offers an option where a live audio feed can be recorded from the courtroom with the permission of the judge only.    

Since the rules have been implemented, South Dakotans have been able to see the attorney for Donald Moeller stand up in court and say his client takes responsibility for a 22-year-old rape and murder. They've also been able to see and hear the sentencing proceedings for two death row inmates who tried to escape from the penitentiary.

"A year later we now have sufficient data to say that the rule definitely did not result in a de facto return to an outright ban of cameras in the trial courts," Gilbertson said, during his speech on Wednesday.

Gilbertson said that the media has been granted some type of access, whether it's audio coverage or cameras in the courtroom, in two-thirds of the cases.

Dexter Gronseth is the assignment editor for KELO-TV and the statewide media coordinator for the Supreme Court. He has covered South Dakota courts as a member of the media for 30 years. He says the increased access is a benefit for the public.

"They understand the court system. For years you shot the perp walk and you went inside and took notes for the hearing but you never got the taste, the public was never in a courtroom. Now they are in the courtroom and they can see the process," Gronseth said.

Thirty-six states across the country allow cameras in the courtroom without many restrictions. A half dozen state’s, including South Dakota, require permission from all parties involved to use cameras. And eight others still ban cameras. However some of those states, including Nebraska, are testing out the idea.

Gilbertson says he has not seen or heard of any problems with South Dakota’s new rules.

"I believe this continues to provide a fair balance between public access to the judicial proceedings and a right to a fair trial," Gilbertson said.

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