March 29, 2011
Court Allows Courtroom Tweeting in Criminal Trial--State v. Komisarjevsky
State v. Komisarjevsky, 2011 WL 1032111 (Conn. Super. Ct. Feb. 22, 2011)
In a sexual assault and homicide case, the defendant asked the judge to ban the media from posting tweets from the courtroom. Connecticut court rules explicitly prohibit "broadcasting" of the trial. The defendant argued that tweeting the trial was "broadcasting"--an argument that has come up occasionally before. No media representatives fought this motion, but the court noted that they live-tweeted the hearing on the motion.
The court engages a typical statutory analysis of the word "broadcasting." It rejects Webster's Dictionary as a reliable source because it was written in 1971, and other statutory definitions of the term are similarly antiquated. Therefore, the court turns to first principles. It says the rule was designed "to spare a sexual assault victim from the indignity of having his or her ordeal vividly conveyed to the world by the use of actual voices and photographic or televised images projected from the courtroom." Because the rule protects visual images, it does not restrict textual accounts of the proceedings.
As a result, the rule doesn't ban live-tweeting from the courtroom. The court declined to block Twitter on an ad hoc basis either, although it reserved the right to bar disruptive behavior.
This is a sensible result. Indeed, it's so obvious to me that tweeting isn't "broadcasting" that I could have imagined an even more concise opinion reaching the same result. Still, however the judge got there, at least he got there. Kudos Judge Jon C. Blue.
My previous post on this topic: Courtroom Coverage in the Internet Era--a Conference Recap, which discusses US v. Shelnutt, mistakenly reaching the opposite result.
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