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How is 'Caught in Providence' legal?

Law Asked by Andrew Ferrier on December 25, 2020

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.

One Answer

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. Conversely, the judge(s) have 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 filminhg.

Answered by Dale M on December 25, 2020

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