Date of Award
H. Preston Thomas
In the early fifties, the television media sought to cover criminal trials with television cameras. A few states allowed some television coverage, but they were a minority. One of these states, Texas, made constitutional history when it allowed the television coverage of the criminal trial of Billie Estes in 1962. The case had been appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, where his conviction had been reversed because of the television coverage of his trial. The Supreme Court's holding in that case had been rather ambiguous because one justice in the five - man majority, while agreeing with the result reached by the other four justices, disagreed with the scope of their decision.
Despite the ambiguity of the Estes decision, the period of time following the 1965 decision to the mid-seventies was characterized by the prohibition of televised trials by most states. Only Colorado and Texas allowed televised trials during this period, and Texas gave in to pressure from TV trial critics and banned televised trials in 1976. The post- Estes latency period ended in 1975 when several states began allowing televised trials. Unlike the televised trials of the previous era, these new televise d trial programs were carefully laid out ahead of time under the auspices of the highest court in each state. By 1980, more states allowed televised trials than didn't . This explosion in televised trials was condoned by the United States Supreme Court in 1981 decision in Chandler v Florida.
Thus, televised trials have been allowed in two periods: an early period during the fifties and early sixties and the present period which began in the mid - seventies. The one exception to this two - period analysis of televised trials is Colorado which adopted its present program of televised trial in 1956. Colorado is unusual in another respect. Although it was one of the first states to allow televised trials, it adopted a program more like the present state programs than the sporadic experimental trials of the fifties and sixties.
Greer, Grant, "Televised Trials: Past and Present" (1981). Undergraduate Honors Capstone Projects. 230.
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