Trials & Litigation

Defense lawyer says he didn't call sentencing witness because of courtroom camera fear

Both the prosecution and the defense objected when a judge in Fairfax County, Va., allowed news media cameras in the courtroom during a recent murder trial.

It was the first time cameras were allowed in a Fairfax County courtroom since 1994. According to the Washington Post, “No media circus ensued.” The defendant, Julio Blanco Garcia, was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 49 years in prison.

But the lead defense lawyer, David Bernhard, said the cameras did affect his trial strategy, according to the Post account.

“The cameras in the courtroom did cause us some difficulties,” he said, “because we had to make a tactical decision not to call a witness whose fear of the cameras might have been misinterpreted as fear of the defendant.”

Bernhard was referring to one of Blanco Garcia’s family members, who would have testified in the sentencing phase. Would Blanco Garcia have gotten a lower sentence (the minimum was 20 years) if the family member had testified?

The Post columnist raises the question, but nonetheless praises the judge for allowing a television and still camera at the trial. The case “showed that the media can behave themselves, people can see the court system they pay for, and a criminal case can still be tried fairly,” the article concludes.

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