Moments before a trial in a notorious Pennsylvania home-invasion slaying started June 8, a deputy sheriff made a rare announcement: Everyone carrying a cell phone had to step outside the packed courtroom and put it in a cardboard box in the hallway, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. In an era of instant communication, the move struck a blow to reporters’ ability to deliver news as they watched it happen.
A Pennsylvania court rule bars “the transmission of communications by telephone, radio, television, or advanced communications technology from the hearing room or the courtroom,” placing the state’s courts at loggerheads with the explosion of online-everywhere technology. That prohibition is being reexamined by a state Supreme Court committee charged with sorting out how First Amendment freedoms may conflict with the potential for sabotaging trials. “It’s a new world,” Said Chief Justice Ronald Castille. “We want to address it rationally.” Castille, who said he had never logged on to Twitter or Facebook, has found himself discussing social networking with other members of the Conference of Chief Justices. “This is a fluid issue,” said Sam Bayard, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and assistant director of the Harvard-affiliated Citizen Media Law Project. “I think it’s a very important one because simultaneous reporting is becoming more and more vital to what journalists are doing, and it offers the public a fascinating look at trials as they are going on.