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Appeals court upholds camera ban in executions

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Appeals court upholds camera ban in executions

  • The federal court of appeals in St. Louis (8th Cir.) upheld the constitutionality of Missouri’s prohibition against filming and tape-recording state-sponsored executions.

July 15, 2004 — Missouri’s prohibition against filming or videotaping a state-sponsored execution does not violate the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis (8th Cir.) ruled July 9. A three-judge panel upheld a district court ruling that allowed the Missouri Department of Corrections to ban still and video cameras, as well as audio recorders, during an execution.

“Even if we were to assume arguendo that executions are so important that public access is required, we believe that videotaping and the use of cameras would not be necessary to vindicate the right of access,” Judge Pasco Bowman wrote for the unanimous panel. “The ban on videotaping does not prevent New Life from disseminating to the public any information gained from attending the execution.”

The suit was brought by Rev. Larry Rice and Rev. Raymond Redlich, directors of the New Life Evangelistic Center, an interdenominational religious center. Redlich said he hoped to televise executions to educate the public on the immorality of the act. New Life operates television stations in Jefferson City and St. Louis, Mo., along with seven low-power radio stations in Missouri and Arkansas.

Rice and Redlich had argued that the ban violated the public’s First Amendment right of access to a public proceeding. Because capital punishment was reintroduced in Missouri in 1989 to help deter murder and other serious crimes, Redlich said, executing people out of public view, at the reclusive Potosi Correctional Center, located 70 miles southwest of St. Louis, was serving little purpose.

“If it is a deterrent and done in the name of the people, then why not allow it to be broadcast?” asked Redlich. “How is it a deterrent for further murders if it’s done at 12 a.m. in a secluded community in the hills of Potosi, Mo.?”

The appellate court conceded that the Department of Corrections’ policy inhibited some right to access, but found the restriction “reasonably related to legitimate penological interests such as safety and security.”

The Missouri Department of Corrections allows members of the media and other witnesses to observe the lethal injection process, and to carry a pen and paper or sketch pad.

“We provide quite a bit of access and perspective for the public to witness executions,” said Tim Kneist, a spokesman for Department of Corrections. “We have a personal safety concern for our staff to have anonymity so other people in the community do not take actions against them, and there is a general security concern in bringing cameras into secure parts of the prison.”

Redlich called the appeals court ruling “disappointing,” but said they would not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(Rice v. Kempker, State of Missouri; Counsel: Robert Schultz, Schultz and Little, St. Louis) TS

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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