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Exhibition Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration


Courtroom drawing took hold as a result of the media frenzy that occurred during the 1935 trial of Richard Hauptman for kidnapping the Lindbergh baby. The exaggerated media coverage prompted the federal government to convene a Special Committee on Cooperation between the Press, Radio and Bar, which included representatives from print media, radio stations, and the American Bar Association. The committee condemned the proceedings at the Hauptman trial and recommended standards for media conduct in the court. The American Bar Association responded with the passage of Canon 35, which stated cameras should not be permitted in the courtroom. Most states followed the Bar's recommendation, and, by 1946, photography and radio were banned in federal courts. By the 1960s, reporting on the civil rights movement and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy spurred television networks to increase the amount of time they spent on news. Stations relied on artists' depictions to give viewers a visual sense of the proceedings. As news coverage increased in the twentieth century and beyond, networks added trials of local and national importance to the nightly broadcasts. At the trials, artists raced outside to meet mobile film crews to have their illustrations filmed for that evening's broadcast. These stunning compositions provide the only visual record of action inside those courtrooms. Today, courtroom illustration is on the decline. Since 1977, states have increasingly permitted limited camera use in their courtrooms and some federal courts have elected to permit cameras. With the shift, broadcast and print media news outlets hire artists primarily for sensational trials, federal trials, and U.S. Supreme Court cases. The Library's courtroom illustration collection preserves an enduring record of American life and law.