ATLANTA — If Donald Trump is indicted in Fulton County, Georgia, it will not be the first time the former president will answer to criminal charges in a courtroom. But this time, the entire process will likely play out on live television.
Unlike federal or Manhattan courts, where the former president appeared for his three previous arraignments, Georgia law requires that cameras be allowed into judicial proceedings with a judge’s approval.
In 2018, the Georgia Supreme Court, in an order amending the law to include smartphones, underscored the importance of transparency: “Open courtrooms are an indispensable element of an effective and respected judicial system.
“It is the policy of Georgia’s courts to promote access to and understanding of court proceedings not only by the participants in them but also by the general public and by news media who will report on the proceedings to the public.”
And unlike in New York, where Trump told the world he had been indicted but the public had to wait days until the document was unsealed, Georgia requires that indictments be made public immediately.
The presiding judge has the final say on camera access. Media organizations are required to file a formal request, known as a Rule 22, for the judge’s consideration. The filing is often considered more of a formality, as the requests are almost always granted.
This means that if the former president is indicted and required to travel to Atlanta for an in-person arraignment, the world would likely see him on camera for the first time as a defendant, standing before a judge and entering a plea. Up until now, there have been only a handful of photos allowed in the New York City courtroom before his arraignments. And there has been no video of Trump — or his lawyers — uttering the words "not guilty."
It also means a potential criminal trial could be televised in its entirety.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has spent more than two years investigating whether Trump and his allies broke the law in Georgia in their efforts to overturn the 2020 election. As that process unfolded in Fulton County Superior Court, it also played out in front of television cameras.
Cameras captured the seating of the special grand jury impaneled to investigate election interference. Earlier this year, Judge Robert McBurney also allowed cameras inside a contentious hearing to determine if the Special Purpose Grand Jury’s report would be released to the public.
And last month, cameras were present for the seating of the grand jury that will hear Willis’ case against Trump and his associates, likely next week.
McBurney, who has overseen most of the proceedings related to Willis’ investigation into election interference, is particularly media savvy. Many of his hearings, including those regarding the Trump investigation, have been live-streamed on his YouTube channel.
Under Georgia law, judges can weigh several factors when deciding whether to allow cameras, including the consent of the parties involved, concerns over safety of those participating in proceedings and the impact on due process.