Texas District Court Judge Ted Poe has agreed to allow PBS's Frontline
series to film jury deliberations in a murder trial, the first such filming in a trial for which the death penalty is being sought. The trial is on hold, however, while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals considers the prosecution's challenge of Poe's decision.
executive producer of special projects Michael Sullivan praised Poe and characterized Harris County DA Charles Rosenthal Jr.'s objection as "based on a faulty reading of Texas law, on misrepresentation of Frontline's distinguished 20-year record of thoughtful and thorough reporting, and an apparent deep mistrust of Harris County jurors and the jury system."
Rosenthal called Poe's decision illegal and wrote the court that "the desire to serve on a Survivor
-style reality television series should not be added to the qualifications for jury service."
According to Sullivan, the defense agreed to the filming, and almost 90% of the juror pool said they had no objections.
Sullivan pointed to several cases where juries have been filmed, including the first filming of a criminal-trial deliberation—also by Frontline
—in Wisconsin and by ABC and CBS in Arizona, the latter with ABA endorsement. In all those cases, he said, post-trial interviews with jurors yielded no evidence that the cameras had had an impact on deliberations or the verdict.
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that only juries, not judges, can decide capital cases, Frontline, says Sullivan, wants to "create a deeply illuminating document of exactly how capital-murder cases are decided."
The Radio-Television News Directors Association is on record saying cameras belong in the courtroom but does not extend that general assertion to the jury room. Still, RTNDA President Barbara Cochran agrees that there is potential educational value.
She said a documentary might help viewers understand what goes on by demystifying the process," which, in turn, "could be helpful to the judicial system."