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Court Reporting


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Basic introduction, given to Reporting II class on 28 Oct 2015.

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Court Reporting

  1. 1. Court  Journalism The  Basics Damian  Radcliffe 28th October   2015
  2. 2. The  First  Amendment  right  of  free  speech  carries   with  it  the  right  to  listen.  Therefore,  court   proceedings  are  presumed  open,  unless   specifically  closed  by  law  or  a  party  proves  that  an   overriding  interest  in  justice  requires  closure.   (Richmond  Newspapers,  Inc.  v.  Virginia,  44  U.S.  555  (1980);  Globe  Newspapers  v.  Superior  Court,   457  U.S.  596  (1982);  NBC  Subsidiary  Inc.  v.  Superior  Court,  20  Cal.  4th  1178  (1999)).
  3. 3. Complex  and  wide  ranging  beat • Covers  a  lot  of  different  subjects • Number  of  different  courts  /  legal  bodies • Often  complex  legal  language ….Or  highly  technical  cases • Cases  can  be  very  long…  And  sometimes   boring • Seldom  like  it’s  shown  on  TV/Movies
  4. 4. But  it’s  also  an  area  that  matters Justice  must  not  only  be  done;  it  must  be  seen  to  be  done.   Journalists  report  court  cases:   1. to  encourage  public  confidence  in  the  law,   2. to  help  the  law  deter  future  crime,  and   3. to  get  strong  news  stories.
  5. 5. Citizen  benefits
  6. 6. How  it  works The  courts  of  this  country  are  divided  into  two  groups:  state  and  federal.   Generally,  federal  courts  hear  claims  based  on  alleged  violations  of  federal   statutes  or  the  United  States  Constitution.  State  courts  hear  cases  involving   state  statutes or  common  (court-­‐made)  law  or  a  state’s  constitution.   For  example,  a  First  Amendment  claim  charging  public  school  officials  with  censorship  is   typically  brought  in  federal  court  because  the  First  Amendment  is  part  of  the  United  States   Constitution.  A  lawsuit  accusing  campus  police  officials  of  violating  a  state’s  open  records   law  or  claiming  that  a  principal  has  violated  a  state’s  student  free  expression  law  will   typically  be  brought  in  state  court.   It  is  possible  for  a  federal  court  to  hear  a  state  law  claim  (and  vice  versa)  but  usually  that   happens  only  when  state  and  federal  law  questions  are  both  part  of  one  case.­‐our-­‐legal-­‐system
  7. 7. Structure The  Structure  of  the  State  Court  System • Local  courts:  Go  by  a  variety  of  names   -­‐ district,   county,   magistrate,  etc.  These  courts  generally  hear  minor   cases  and  arraignments. • Specialized  courts: Deal  with  family   issues,   juveniles,   landlord-­‐tenant   disputes,   etc. • State  superior  courts: This  is  where  felony   trials  are  heard.  Of  all  trials  held  in  the  U.S.  each  year,  the  vast   majority   are  heard  in  state  superior   courts. • State  supreme  courts: Where  appeals   of  verdicts   rendered  in  state  superior   courts   are  heard. The  Federal  Court  System • Federal  District  Courts:  Most  federal  court  cases  begin  here.  However,  unlike   the  local  courts  in  the  state   court  system,  federal  district  courts  -­‐ also  known   as  U.S.  District  Courts   -­‐ hear  serious   cases  that  involve   violations   of  federal  law. • Specialized  Courts: Deal  with  cases  involving   taxes,  commerce   and  trade. • U.S.  Courts  of  Appeals:  Appeals   of  verdicts  rendered   in  U.S.  District  Courts   are  heard  here. • U.S.  Supreme  Court: Like  the  U.S.  Courts   of  Appeals,   the  Supreme   Court   is  an  appellate  court.  But  the   Supreme   Court  only   hears  appeals  of  cases  that  involve   fundamental   issues   of  the  U.S.  Constitution.
  8. 8. Accessing  records “Criminal  court  records  are  presumed  open  to  public  inspection,  unless  a  judge  has   granted  a  motion  by  the  prosecutor  or  the  defense  attorney  requesting  that  some   of  the  records  be  sealed.”­‐court-­‐records/ • Very  few  records  are  online. • You  usually  have  to  go  to  the  courts  to  access  files. • Access  to  records  is  free.  But  copies  are  charged  for. Tip Plan  ahead  to  look  at  documents  as  early  as  possible   ahead  of  any  court  hearing.
  9. 9. Before  you  go • Preparation:  do  research  before  you  go  (it  will  make  more  sense  then!) Much  of  what  you  will  report  is  background  – with  court  content  adding  color.   Always  know:  who,  what,  where,  when,  why  and  how  of  the  case • Dress  appropriately • No  weapons:  leave  these  at  home • Check  the  rules  about  cameras,  recorders  and  phones
  10. 10. In  Court • Take  thorough  notes  – especially  if  you’re  going  to  use  quotes • Make  a  note  of  legal  terms  you  don’t  understand  or  need  to  review • Capture  color  and  description,  but  use  with  caution • Don’t  miss  what  happens  outside  the  courtroom  e.g.  before  and   after  on  the  steps  (statements,  protests,  arrivals  and  departures)
  11. 11. Reporting
  12. 12. Your  Writing • Write  for  a  lay  audience  (provide  context,  avoid  legalese) • Tell  both  sides  of  the  story • Lead  with  what’s  new,  but  always  offer  a  recap • Use  quotes  where  you  can
  13. 13. Core  content The  following  information  should  typically  be  carried  in  each  report: • The  names,   addresses   and  places  of  origin   of  all  defendants   (plus  ages,   if  important) • The  offence   or  offences   they  are  charged  with   • The  plea  of  each  defendant   to  each  charge  -­‐ guilty  or  not  guilty • The  court  where  the  case  is  being  heard Also  useful: • Name  of  the  judge  or  magistrate  hearing  the  case,  especially   when   reporting  verdict  or  sentence • Names  of  the  prosecution   and  defense   lawyers • Names  and  other  personal   details  of  all  witnesses   whose   evidence   you  quote
  14. 14. Status  update Report  must  also  carry: • Either the  court's  verdict;  the  sentence,  or  the  information  of  when   sentence  is  to  be  passed  or,  if  the  case  is  not  finished,  the  words  "The   case  continues".  These  three  words  should  always  be  left  as  the  final   words  of  the  report  of  an  unfinished  case • The  rest  of  the  report  will  be  an  account  of  the  day's  proceedings,   quoting  what  was  said  by  those  who  spoke  -­‐ lawyers,  the  judge,   witnesses.
  15. 15. Journalistic  Principles • To  allow  the  courts  to  do  their  job,  anything  that  is  said  in  court  as   part  of  a  hearing  is  protected  by  privilege. In  most  cases,  privilege  protects  lawyers,  witnesses  and  news  reporting   of  court  proceedings,  as  long  as  it  is: -­‐ Fair -­‐ Accurate  and -­‐ Non-­‐malicious.  
  16. 16. Importance  of  a  fair  trial Your  reporting  – before  and  during  – any  case  must  not  prejudice   efforts  to  ensure  that  people  get  a  fair  trial. “It  is  the  job  of  the  courts,  and  nobody  else,  to  decide  whether  or  not   the  person  charged  did  in  fact  commit  the  crime.”
  17. 17. Example “You  can  report  the  fact  that  the  crime  happened,  that  someone  is  being  charged   and  any  facts  about  it,  which  are  not  likely  to  be  challenged  in  court.  If  a  man  has   been  charged  with  breaking  into  a  store  and  stealing  $500  in  cash  and  goods  worth   $250,  then  we  must  report  the  fact  that  he  has  been  charged.  We  may  write: A  man  has  been  charged  with  burglary,  following  the  break-­‐in  at  Cut-­‐Price supermarket  at  the   weekend.  Bruce  Maupiti,  28,  of  Avarua,  Rarotonga,  has  been  charged  with  stealing  $500  in  cash  and   goods  worth  $250  from  the  store  on  the  night  of  July  25. It  is  important  to  note  that  we  did  not  say  that  Maupiti actually  committed  the   crime  -­‐ that  is  not  a  fact.  It  is  the  job  of  the  courts  to  decide  whether  or  not  he  did   it.  All  we  said  is  that  Maupiti has  been  charged  with  the  crime  -­‐ that  is  a  fact  -­‐ and   that  there  was  a  break-­‐in  at  the  store  at  the  weekend  -­‐ that  is  also  a  fact.” Quote  via:
  18. 18. Visiting  Court “It  may  be  tempting  to  get  your  feet  wet  by  visiting  a  small  local  court,   sometimes  known  as  a  municipal  court. But,  depending  on  where  you  live,  these  very  small  courts  are  often   fairly  limited  in  scope.  It  may  be  interesting  to  watch  people  bicker  over   traffic  tickets  for  a  few  minutes,  but  eventually  you'll  want  to  move  on   to  bigger  things. Generally  the  best  place  to  start  is  a  state  superior  Court.  This  is  a   court  where  trials  for  serious  crimes,  otherwise  known  as  felonies,  are   heard.  State  superior  courts  are  where  most  trials  are  heard,  and  are   where  most  court  reporters  ply  their  trade.”
  19. 19. Finally…  Children You  should  not  identify  an  accused  child  in  a  court   report  without   permission  from  the  judge • It  is  not   simply   a  matter   of   not   naming   a  child;   it  is  important   that   no   information   is  given  which   would   identify the   child. • For  example,   to  describe   a  child   as  "the  nine-­‐year-­‐old   son  of  a  community   school   headmaster   from   Laho Village"   identifies   him   just  as  precisely   as  if  you   had   used  his  name.  As  a  general   rule,   you  can   only  use   the   child's   age,  sex  and   the  general   area   he  or  she   comes   from.  For   example:   “A  ten-­‐year-­‐old   Nadi girl   ...” • Sometimes   two   members   of  the  same   family  appear   in   court   together,   charged   with   the  same   crime.   One  of  them   may  be  an  adult   and   the   other   a  child   -­‐ father   and  son,   for   instance,   or  two   brothers. • In  such   a  case,   you  are  allowed   to  name   the   adult,   of  course;   but   if  you  also  say  that   the   two   are  related,   you  will   identify the  child.   There   are  two   ways  to   report   a  case  of  this   kind. • The  first   is  not   to   report   the   relationship,   but   to  call   them   "Bruce   Maupiti,   28,  of  Avarua,   Rarotonga,   and   a  nine-­‐year-­‐old   boy   from  Rarotonga."   In  this   way   the   boy  is  not   identified. Quote  via: