United States District Court - Northern District Court of California

Phyllis J. Hamilton, Chief Judge

Susan Y. Soong, Clerk of Court

Court Rules Affecting The Media

Access to the Courthouse.

All parties entering any federal building must show a government-issued picture ID and must pass through a security screening device. Acceptable forms of identification include official state or United States government identification such as a driver's license or passport. The only acceptable international identification is a government-issued passport with a current United States visa. Proper decorum is expected of all visitors to the federal building and the court.

Photography, Recording & Electronic Devices.

Members of the media are often surprised by the very restrictive rules applicable to photography and recording of proceedings in federal district courts. These rules are due to national policies affecting all federal district courts. 

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53 bars photography and broadcasting in criminal proceedings. Broadcasting of proceedings is prohibited by policy of the Judicial Conference of the United States. This encompasses the use of all audio or video recording devices of any kind. No journalist or member of the public may photograph or record any court proceeding under any circumstances. 

Exceptions to the Prohibition on Cameras in Court.

Cameras are used in courtrooms during court proceedings under only two circumstances. 

  1. For high-demand proceedings, the Court sometimes sets up an audio-video feed to an adjoining courtroom and to the court's Media Center to accommodate additional observers and members of the media.
  2. The Cameras in Courtrooms pilot project sponsored by the United States Courts. This program allows the judge and the parties to authorize court staff to video-record proceedings.  

General Order 58. 

General Order 58, which has been adopted by the Court to implement the above national policies, regulates possession and use of electronic devices in the courthouse. Members of the media should read General Order 58 in its entirety. 

 General Order 58 sets forth four basic rules relevant to the media, summarized and explained below: 

  1. Court security personnel screen all electronic devices and cameras before permitting them into the courthouse and may bar any item that appears to pose a threat to security or safety.
  2. Photography and video and audio recording are prohibited in the common areas of the courthouse ( i.e . the corridors and other areas outside the courtrooms) as well as in the courtrooms.  Photography and interviews are permitted outside the building and in the Media Center only .
  3. In general, electronic devices may be brought into the courthouse and may be used in a non-disruptive manner in the common areas of the courthouse for purposes other than photography and video and audio recording. 
  4. In general, the text functions (and only the text functions) of electronic devices (such as typing documents, emailing, text messaging and tweeting) may be used in a non-disruptive manner in courtrooms while proceedings are in session.  

Violation of these rules may result in the immediate loss of press credentials, a finding of contempt of court and/or other sanctions.