- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Texas' highest criminal court yesterday barred the Public Broadcasting Service series "Frontline" from videotaping jury deliberations in a death penalty case.
In its 6-3 decision, the Court of Criminal Appeals said the taping the first in a U.S. capital case would violate the "ancient and centuries-old rule that jury deliberations should be private and confidential."
A video camera, the court said, would create outside influence and put pressure on the jury by allowing potentially millions of viewers to watch the process. In arguments last month, one judge questioned whether taping would turn deliberations into "reality TV, like 'Survivor.'"
The court relied on a state law that prohibits anyone else from being present when a jury discusses a case.
In November, state District Judge Ted Poe of Houston agreed to allow a "Frontline" documentary crew to record deliberations in the murder trial of 17-year-old Cedric Harrison, who could face the death penalty if convicted of killing a man during a carjacking.
Prosecutors appealed, saying the decision would violate jury confidentiality.
Judge Poe's attorneys argued that a camera could shed valuable light on the death-penalty process. A camera is not a person and could be set up by remote, they said, so it would be allowed under the law.
"We have in this country and this world a huge debate over the propriety of putting people to death, and Texas and Harris County are right in the middle of it," Judge Poe's attorney, Chip Babcock, told the appeals court.
Prosecutors said cameras could corrupt the deliberations: Aggressive jurors might grandstand on the death penalty, while shy jurors might be reluctant to participate.
In a dissent, Judge Mike Keasler noted that the jury privacy law does not specifically ban cameras.
"My heart is with the majority, but my mind cannot agree," Judge Keasler wrote.
"The question is not whether videotaping the jury's deliberations is a good idea. It is a terrible idea. The issue, however, is only whether videotaping the jury constitutes a clear violation" of law.
A bill to prohibit specifically the recording of jury deliberations is now before the Texas Legislature.

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