The Illinois Supreme Court's experiment opening up courtrooms to the public has entered a whole new sphere.
History was made last week in Kankakee with the first-ever televised murder trial in state history.
The trial of 20-year-old Demetrious Jones was broadcast on CLTV, a partner of Chicago's WGN-TV, and it is expected to be the first among a wave of trials broadcast in whole or in part on television. These televised proceedings will give the public a whole new understanding of how legal proceedings are conducted, and, if our expectations are confirmed, enhance the public's confidence in our legal system.
The Kankakee trial is the result of a decision by the Illinois Supreme Court to experiment with the introduction of cameras in Illinois courts. Cameras are a routine presence in courtrooms across the country, but Illinois, due to a combination of inertia and a fear of the unknown, has been slow to embrace this concept.
Cameras have been introduced in 13 of Illinois' 102 counties as a part of the experiment, with Kankakee County being the closest.
Far from the flamboyant exhibitions seen in TV's fictionalized courtroom dramas, viewers of the Kankakee trial are seeing low-key proceedings in which the judge as well as prosecution and defense lawyers address a serious matter in a professional fashion. One addition to the proceeding was video of the police interrogation of the suspect that was admitted into evidence.
There certainly are moments of genuine drama in legal proceedings — questioning of important witnesses, final arguments and the return of the verdict. But for the most part, even the most high-profile trials are conducted in a deliberate manner that often focuses on mundane, even technical issues and complicated questions of law.
If all the parties act as they should — and it's the judge's job to maintain proper decorum — judicial proceedings are a model of fairness with both sides given ample opportunity to present their case to an unbiased jury.
We look forward to seeing how this ground-breaking proceeding is perceived by both lawyers and laymen. It might not be all that long before cameras are routine fixtures in Illinois courtrooms.