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I watch Caught in Providence sometimes on YouTube (I understand it's also broadcast on TV in the US). I'm from the UK, where generally speaking filming in court is not allowed, and I find the setup somewhat confusing.

I know filming/broadcasting court cases is often allowed in the US (I guess the OJ Simpson trial is a classic example), presumably because there's an argument that they are a public event, which seems reasonable from one perspective. In this particular case, though, it seems like a specific program is being produced by Judge Caprio and colleagues - there are cutaway segments where he and other regular characters talk about / introduce cases, etc. - it's editiorialized in such a way that it seems he is presenting his court as a show.

Isn't there an argument that he personally might profit from this, and this or his reptutation might sway his decisions / cause him to present things in a particular light? How is this allowed by ethics rules that presumably the judge is bound to follow? In effect, it seems like some defendants are being forced to appear on a TV show.

Note I'm not specifically saying that's true of Judge Caprio; in fact, I find the show fascinating, I learn a lot, and I think his general message of compassion is admirable. But one could imagine less ethical judges abusing this ("America's Worst Criminals").

I'm aware of things like Judge Judy, but my understanding is those are not real courts - they are effectively arbitration that both parties have agreed to be presented on TV. Unless the illusion is really good, this does appear to be a real court in Rhode Island.

Edit: For what it's worth - the description on the YouTube page is:

Real people have their cases heard in Providence Municipal Court. The cases include traffic, parking, and arraignments for criminal offenses.

Further, from the official website:

Judge Frank Caprio is the Chief Municipal Judge in Providence, Rhode Island and former Chairman of the Rhode Island Board of Governors. He was appointed in 1985, and has been re-appointed six times by the mayor of Providence and the Providence City Council.

All of the cases and people are real. Those who step in front of him have a little fun with the cameras, but Judge Caprio makes it clear that he is there to do his job.

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  • I get serious Judge Judy vibes from the traffic court cases I skimmed into, where it appears courtly, but it is actually binding arbitration – Trish Nov 27 '20 at 14:27
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    @Trish Thanks. That doesn't really make sense to me though. Surely traffic offences - since they would presumably be criminal and not civil matters, could not be arbitrated, since it's the state who would be the other party, and they would want it dealt with in a 'proper' court? – Andrew Ferrier Nov 27 '20 at 15:18
  • Well, an American judge once sent children to prison unnecessarily, just for private profit, so nothing would surprise me about the US justice system. Someone once said America is a third-world country with a superpower army. – Statsanalyst Nov 28 '20 at 15:03
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    FWIW, standards on filming court proceedings vary a great deal and are in flux in the U.S., In Alaska there is a state constitutional right to participate in most legislative and legal proceedings that do not call for an in person presence (e.g. as a member of the public in the audience) remotely. Elsewhere, there is often not even a uniform rule for all courts in the state with one judge allowing it perhaps for some or all cases, and another disallowing it. The modern trend is to allow videotaping more broadly (with delays where the interests of justice might be impaired). – ohwilleke Dec 28 '20 at 6:25
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The Rhode Island Supreme Court Rules, Part VII state, in part:

PREAMBLE Proceedings in court should be conducted with fitting conduct and decorum. Although this rule permits the taking of photographs, the broadcasting, televising, and recording of court proceedings, such activities shall be subject to the requirements set forth in these rules.

Canon 1. Authority of trial justice. Rules of conduct under these rules do not limit or restrict the power, authority or responsibility vested in the trial justice to control the conduct of judicial proceedings. The authority of the trial justice over the inclusion or exclusion of the press or the public at particular proceedings or during the testimony of particular witnesses is applicable to any person engaging in any activity authorized by these rules. For purposes of this provision, the term “trial justice” includes any judicial officer or master who conducts a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding.

Thus, the televising of court proceedings is both permitted by Rhode Island procedural rules, and the trial judge (in this case, Judge Caprio) has authority on the inclusion and exclusion of media and television subject to those rules. There is no issue with televising proceedings, although one might speculate if everything on Caught in Providence really complies with the 'fitting conduct and decorum' foreseen in the preamble...

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  • This seems mostly convincing to me. Personally I would wonder about the 'fitting conduct and decorum' aspect too but it sounds like the judge is given a lot of leeway. – Andrew Ferrier Apr 27 at 17:49
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Courts are generally open to the public

This is a very old tradition stemming from English law. The default position in both the UK, USA and all other common law countries is that the public can enter and watch court proceedings - most courts are built with a public gallery for that purpose.

Some jurisdictions have legislated that certain cases (e.g. family law, cases involving children, national security matters) will not be open. A judge also has the ability to order that a case or part of a case be heard in private, usually on the request of one of the parties.

A judge(s) can also allow the case to be filmed, or prohibit filming.

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  • There could also be consent obtained from the participants in addition. – ohwilleke Dec 28 '20 at 6:22

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