Cameras Flick On In Minnesota’s Criminal Courtrooms

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — For the first time in Minnesota, a pilot project allowed WCCO-TV to take you inside a criminal courtroom.

The project that began Tuesday is limited to hearings that take place after a defendant is convicted in certain types of cases. Cameras aren’t allowed when a jury is present, and they’re excluded from juvenile proceedings or those involving domestic violence or sex crimes.

Formerly, all parties to a case had to consent before recordings were allowed, leading to few cases where cameras were permitted. On Tuesday morning, WCCO-TV was allowed in as part of a brand new pilot program spurred by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, WCCO-TV cameras were rolling in the case of Tania Harris, who was seen in dash-cam footage attacking a woman with a large kitchen knife.

Judge Elizabeth Cutter addressed the district court: “In Hennepin County, WCCO has requested permission to film the sentencing.”

It was a move that the defense attorney admits threw him off.

“It will definitely take some getting used to, having cameras in the courtroom,” attorney Stephen Smith said.

A Robbinsdale police officer shot her twice when she wouldn’t stop her attack. Harris recovered, and pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon.

“She is not defined by that one moment of impetuous behavior,” Smith said in court.

The judge decided she would not be.

“This is a very difficult case. This is one of the most difficult that I’ve had,” Cutter said.

Instead of a standard 21 months in prison, she’ll serve 72 days at a work house.

Harris said to the judge, “I do need counseling for anger management. I will own up to that and I take full responsibility for what I’ve done.”

The judge was impressed that the young mother has since gotten a job and is finishing high school.

“I am confident that you are going to be successful that tells me that you’re going to be successful,” Cutter said.

Among the program’s stipulations, no sex abuse or domestic violence cases are on the table, neither are DWI or veteran’s court cases. And victims who are testifying have to agree in writing.

Not everyone has been on board with this decision. Recently retired Supreme Court justice Alan Page wrote that expanded use of cameras would exacerbate racial bias in the judicial system.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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