A courtroom sketch is an artistic depiction of the proceedings in a court of law. In many jurisdictions, cameras are not allowed in courtrooms in order to prevent distractions and preserve privacy. This requires news media to rely on sketch artists for illustrations of the proceedings.
Creating courtroom sketches
Courtroom sketch artists attend judicial proceedings as members of the public or as credentialed media depending on the venue and jurisdiction. Judges may require artists to sit in a designated area or they may sit in general public seating. In some jurisdictions, including United Kingdom and Hong Kong, courtroom artists are not permitted to sketch proceedings while in court and must create sketches from memory or notes after leaving the courtroom.
Courtroom artists can quickly capture a moment on paper and then sell their work to media outlets who would otherwise be denied a visual record of the trial. They may be paid per sketch or on a per diem commission. Sketches are often sold to television stations, newswire services, newspapers, or the subjects of a sketch. Courtroom sketches may also be acquired by institutional archives. The entire set of courtroom sketches related to the Lindy Chamberlain trial were purchased by the National Museum of Australia from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Selected works of American court artists Richard Tomlinson and Elizabeth Williams are held at the Lloyd Sealy Library at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Other collections of courtroom art include the works of Howard Brodie held in the Library of Congress and the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States, which holds selected court artwork from artist Aggie Kenny.
A courtroom artist must work quickly, particularly during arraignment hearings where a witness may appear in court for only a few minutes. A television-ready illustration can be produced in that time, and viewed on television after a court proceeding is finished. Courtroom artists can be barred from drawing alleged victims of sexual abuse, minors, and jurors or some witnesses in high-profile trials.
In the United States
Courtroom sketches in the United States date back as far as the Salem Witch Trials during the 17th century. Courtroom sketch artists were present for the trial of abolitionist John Brown and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. By the mid-19th century, there were well-known court artists and printmakers such as George Caleb Bingham and David G. Blyth. Sketches during this era were reproduced as engravings in print publications, because photography was not a practical option for courtroom news coverage.
As mass media technology advanced in the early twentieth century, courts began experimenting with allowing photography and radio broadcasts of court proceedings. Following the media "circus" surrounding the trial of Richard Bruno Hauptmann for the Lindbergh kidnapping, broadcasts from federal courtrooms were banned by Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Additionally, the American Bar Association adopted Judicial Cannon 35, which prohibited the use of motion or still cameras in the courtroom and was codified into law by the majority of states. On the other hand, no state or federal court prohibited the publication of courtroom sketches and courtroom sketch artistry continued.
In 1973, courtroom artist Aggie Whelan (Kenny) was hired by CBS to illustrate the Gainesville Eight trial. The judge presiding over the trial, Winston E. Arnow, ordered that no sketches were to be made in the courtroom and that no sketches of the trial be published, even if those sketches were made outside of the court from memory. In the United States v. Columbia Broadcasting System (1974), the Fifth Circuit of Appeals overrulled the trial judge's order and protected Aggie Whelan's right to create sketches and CBS's right to broadcast courtroom sketches. The restrictions were too broad and violated both CBS and Whelan's First Amendment rights.
Television networks began using sketches to illustrate courtroom events during news broadcasts in the 1960s. As long as the artist arrived on time, and did not disturb the proceedings by making unnecessary noise, their presence was rarely challenged in most jurisdictions. In jurisdictions where artists were restricted from sketching inside the courtroom, they created sketches from memory. Courtroom artists including Ida Libby Dengrove protested these restrictions, and gradually courtrooms began allowing sketch artists to work during trials whilst seated in the public gallery.
The reintroduction of camera into courtrooms has been credited with a decline in courtroom sketch artists. By 1987, courtroom photography was allowed in 44 states. While the creation of Court TV and the O. J. Simpson murder case did cause renewed debate on whether or not courtroom photography should be allowed, all 50 states allowed the use of courtroom photography by 2014.
Notable American courtroom artists
Howard Brodie was a courtroom artist whose work included covering the trials of Jack Ruby, Sirhan Sirhan, William Calley, Charles Manson, Patty Hearst, and the Chicago Seven. He primarily worked for the CBS Evening News and anchor Walter Cronkite coined the term "artist-correspondent" to describe his work. Prior to becoming a courtroom artist, Brodie was a combat artist during World War II and a staff artist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Brodie's work is held in the Library of Congress and he was inducted into to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2001.
Bill Robles is an Emmy Award-nominated courtroom artist whose work includes covering the trials of Charles Manson, O.J. Simpson, Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, Richard Ramirez, Rodney King, and Michael Jackson. The first trial Robles covered as a television news courtroom artist was the trial of Manson.
Aggie Whelan Kenny is a courtroom artist known for her work on covering the Supreme Court of the United States and trials including James Earl Ray, David Berkowitz, and Jerry Sandusky. Kenny received an Emmy for her work for the CBS Evening News on the trials of John N. Mitchell and Maurice Stans. Her work is included in the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States. Kenny's sketches of Gainesville Eight trial led to the court case United States v. Columbia Broadcasting System (1974), which established the right of courtroom artists to create sketches and for those sketches to be broadcast on television.
Elizabeth Williams has covered the trials John DeLorean, Martha Stewart, John Gotti, Michael Milken, Bernard Madoff, Dominique Strauss-Khan, and the Times Square Bomber. She is best known for her coverage of white-collar criminals tried in New York City. Her sketches depicting the Sean Bell trial are held by the Lloyd Sealy Library at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
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