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Order Promulgating Amendments to General Rules of Practice for District Courts

Supreme Court of Minnesota

July 2, 2018


          Lorie S. Gildea Chief Justice.

         By order, we approved amendments to Rule 4 of the General Rules of Practice, establishing a pilot project that permits, without the consent of the parties, limited audio and video coverage of certain criminal proceedings in the district court. Promulgation of Amendments to the Minn. Gen. R. Prac., No. ADM09-8009, Order at 1-2 (Minn, filed Aug. 12, 2015). Specifically, the pilot project permits coverage in criminal proceedings after a guilty plea has been tendered or a guilty verdict returned, without party consent See Minn. R. Gen. Prac. 4.02(d). We directed the Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure to monitor the pilot project and make recommendations regarding further rule amendments, and recommendations regarding continuation, abandonment, or modification of the pilot, or permanent codification of the rules governing the pilot project.

         On December 20, 2017, the Advisory Committee filed its report and recommendations, proposing to permanently codify, with some revisions, the rules that govern the pilot project. Report & Proposed Amendments to the Minn. Rules, Nos. ADM 10-8049, ADM 09-8009 (filed Dec. 20, 2017). The committee's report included an evaluation of the pilot project based on survey responses gathered from over 50 proceedings in which coverage requests were granted. On January 24, 2018, we opened a public-comment period and scheduled a public hearing for April 25, 2018. Written comments were submitted on behalf of nine organizations and by one individual. The Chair of the Advisory Committee, the Honorable Michelle Larkin, and representatives of six organizations spoke at the April 25 hearing.

         We have carefully considered the committee's recommendations and evaluation of the permitted coverage in certain criminal cases, the oral and written comments, and the overall implementation and operation of the pilot project. After careful review, we have concluded that the rules that govern the pilot project should be permanently codified.

         Based on all of the files, records, and proceedings herein, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the attached amendments to the General Rules of Practice for the District Courts be, and the same are, prescribed and promulgated to be effective as of September 1, 2018. The rules as promulgated will be effective in all cases pending on, or filed on or after, the effective date.

          THISSEN, J., not having been a member at the time of submission, took no part in the consideration or decision of this matter.


          PER CURIAM.

         In 2015, we adopted the recommendation of the Advisory Committee for the Rules of Criminal Procedure to establish a pilot project, through rule amendments, to evaluate the permitted use of audio or video coverage in certain criminal proceedings. Specifically, we authorized a pilot project in certain "cases and proceedings" with "additional safeguards and conditions" to govern the permitted coverage. Promulgation of Amendments to the Minn. Gen. Rules of Prac, No. ADM 09-8009, Order at 2 (Minn, filed Aug. 12, 2015) ("2015 Pilot Order"). Coverage was permitted only at a certain stage in the proceedings: "after a guilty plea has been accepted or a guilty verdict has been returned." Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 4.02(d). Coverage was prohibited in several instances: in treatment courts; in cases involving charges of criminal sexual conduct, or family or domestic violence; of testifying victims; and outside of the presence of the presiding judge. See Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 4.02(d)(i)-(vi).

         The pilot project has been in place since November 10, 2015. During that time, the criminal rules committee, with assistance from State Court Administration, monitored the requests to cover proceedings, requested input regarding the impact of coverage that occurred in certain proceedings, and reviewed information-comments and other responses-from courtroom participants and attendees, including parties, attorneys, judges, victims, media representatives, court staff, and other courtroom participants. The committee evaluated data drawn from the requests by media representatives to cover proceedings in 79 different cases. The committee also reviewed clips of media coverage from almost 50 cases. Coverage was permitted in 53 cases. Based on the data reviewed and evaluated, a majority of the committee concluded that the overall impact of permitted coverage on the proceedings ranged from neutral to positive. There was, in other words, minimal disruption of the proceedings and no instances of coverage outside the conditions established for the pilot project. See 2015 Pilot Order, Mem. at 18 (noting that among the goals of the pilot project was to evaluate whether the conditions imposed led to "balanced coverage while protecting the interests of all participants, including the defendant.").

         We agree with the conclusions reached by the majority of the committee. Proceedings in Minnesota's courts, including criminal proceedings, are public. See Minneapolis Star & Tribune Co. v. Kammeyer, 341 N.W.2d 550, 559 (Minn. 1983); State v. Schmit, 139 N.W.2d 800, 802-03 (Minn. 1966). The results of the pilot project, in particular the input from courtroom participants and attendees about the permitted coverage, allow us to conclude that the conditions that govern the coverage of these public proceedings provide the appropriate balance between the fundamental right of a defendant to a fair trial and the judicial branch's commitment to the fair, open, and impartial administration of justice. We thus turn to the committee's specific recommendations.

         First, the committee recommends that the rules governing the pilot project be permanently codified to govern media requests to cover post-guilt criminal proceedings.[1]We agree. We recognize that some committee members preferred continuation of the pilot project, based on a concern that fewer than expected requests to cover proceedings were made and granted. But without substantial changes to the structure of the pilot, we do not see that extending the pilot project will gamer a significantly greater number of coverage requests. Even with the conditions in place, requests to cover proceedings were made and granted within days of the effective date of the pilot project. Nothing in the conditions that governed the pilot project suggests that media requests to cover proceedings were stymied by factors that would come to light, and could be addressed, if the pilot is continued without changes, and the committee does not recommend these sort of changes as a means to increase media coverage of criminal proceedings generally or post-guilt proceedings specifically. Thus, we can only conclude that the limited number of coverage requests during the pilot project may be wholly unrelated to the pilot project, i.e., the possibility that media resources were dedicated to news events other than post-guilt proceedings in Minnesota's district courts. In summary, we can identify no benefit to extending the pilot project in its current form because we do not see that a longer pilot will result in a significantly increased number of coverage requests.

         Second, the committee recommends amendments to clarify and refine the category of domestic-violence proceedings in which coverage is generally prohibited, by confining the category of excluded cases to those in which the victim is defined as a family or household member under Minn. Stat. § 518B.01, subd. 2(b) (2016). The committee also recommends that cases with charges of murder committed while committing or attempting to commit criminal sexual conduct in the first or second degree be included in the category of prohibited coverage. See Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(2) (2016). We agree with both recommendations. These refinements to the language of the rule are consistent with the interests of privacy and safety that led to the exclusion of similar cases from the scope of permitted coverage.

         But we do not accept the committee's recommendation to permit coverage of cases involving charges of domestic violence in which the victim is deceased. Victim concerns may be different in these cases, as the committee noted, but this difference does not change the fact that, as with other domestic-violence and sexual-misconduct cases, these cases often involve egregious and salacious facts. In addition, we are reluctant to establish divisions within this specific category of cases because to do so risks undermining the effort to foster balanced, fair, and open coverage that adequately protects the interests of victims and victims' family members. For similar reasons, we reject the request of some commenters to permit coverage in all criminal cases, regardless of the nature of the charges.

         Third, the committee recommends amendments to clarify the circumstances in which a coverage request can be denied. Specifically, the committee recommends language that establishes, clearly, that lack of consent to a coverage request is not good cause to deny that request, and that coverage is permitted in post-guilt proceedings even if a guilty plea is not accepted until the sentencing hearing. We agree that these ...

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