Fact check: Court guidelines allow video, photos of Johnny Depp trial, unlike Ghislaine Maxwell case

The claim: The 'system' chose to keep Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial private but to livestream Johnny Depp’s lawsuit

The extensive news coverage of Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard has led some to engage in conspiratorial thinking.

An April 20 Facebook post is one of many to highlight differences in media coverage between this case and the sex trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell.

“The same system that kept you in the dark about Ghislaine Maxwell and her client list, doesn’t mind live-streaming Johnny Depp’s trial,” a caption within the image reads.

The post shows a courtroom sketch of Maxwell preparing to sit at the defendant’s table alongside a photo of Depp in court. It accumulated more than 2,400 reactions and 26,000 shares in six days.

Similar posts have also accumulated thousands of interactions on Facebook. One version accuses the media of broadcasting the Depp trial to shield “the filthy affairs of powerful politicians.”

Maxwell was convicted of five counts related to luring teenage girls in connection with the late financier Jeffrey Epstein’s child sex trafficking operation. The Depp trial is the result of a $50 million libel lawsuit the actor filed against Heard in Virginia that is ongoing as of April 27.

News organizations used courtroom sketches during their coverage of the Maxwell trial. Recent coverage of the Depp suit contains large quantities of videos and photos.

But the difference in photo and video coverage between the two cases is not the result of a conspiracy, as the post implies. Maxwell's case was a criminal trial in the federal court system, which normally does not allow electronic media coverage of proceedings. The trial in Depp's case has been televised and photographed because it is occurring in a Virginia state court, where the law leaves it to judges to decide whether or not to allow video coverage.

Fact check: Post exaggerates benefits for members of Congress

USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who shared the claim.

Depp case is occurring in Virginia state court

Depp is suing Heard in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia. His defamation suit is a civil case, meaning it involves Depp demanding damages for injuries allegedly committed by Heard.

Images and video from the proceedings have appeared widely across news reports and social media, because Virginia allows recording at the discretion of the presiding judge, with the exception of certain sensitive case types provided by statute and in keeping with other guidelines set forth in the law.

Virginia personal injury lawyer Robert Byrne Jr. told USA TODAY that because the Depp case is not considered a sensitive one, the judge had full discretion over allowing video and photographs.

The presiding judge set parameters for videography and photography in Depp case in a March order.

Federal courts don’t allow photos, video, or recording

Maxwell’s trial occurred in the federal court system, which operates under far stricter media guidelines. Federal courts do not allow cameras and other recording devices, which is why media coverage relies on courtroom sketches.

The prohibition in criminal cases comes from Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure which says "the court must not permit the taking of photographs in the courtroom during judicial proceedings or the broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom," unless a statute or the criminal rules provide otherwise. Over the years, the U.S. Judicial Conference has approved various pilot programs to study cameras in federal courtrooms but photo and video has never been approved generally for the federal court system.

As USA TODAY reported, protecting the identity of accusers was also a concern in the Maxwell trial.

Our rating: Missing context

Based on our research, we rate MISSING CONTEXT the claim that the "system" chose to keep Maxwell’s trial private but to livestream the trial in Depp’s lawsuit. The differences in media coverage result from different sets of rules in federal and state court systems. The Depp trial can be photographed and videotaped because that case is being heard in Virginia state court and the presiding judge has permitted the photos and videos. The Maxwell trial took place in federal court where videos, photos, and recording generally are not permitted.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Images of Depp trial permitted by Virginia guidelines