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California high court declines to bar release of grand jury transcripts

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  1. Court Access
California high court declines to bar release of grand jury transcripts 06/14/1994 CALIFORNIA -- The California Supreme Court in San…

CALIFORNIA — The California Supreme Court in San Francisco refused in late May to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that ordered the release of grand jury transcripts in a high-profile murder case.

David Lynn Scott was indicted in April 1993 by a grand jury on 20 counts, including rape and murder. He asked the trial court in Riverside to seal the grand jury transcripts until the end of trial, arguing there was a “reasonable likelihood” that release of the information would impair his right to a fair trial.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise argued that there was no legal basis to seal the transcript. In May 1993, Riverside County Superior Court Judge William Bailey ruled that the court would release the transcript except for a portion containing statements about Scott’s dreams and an alleged “out of body experience.” Bailey said there was a reasonable likelihood that this part of the testimony might be prejudicial, because it could be interpreted as a reference to the murder victim.

The Press-Enterprise appealed to the Court of Appeal in San Bernadino, which overturned Bailey’s order in February 1994. The court found no danger of prejudice under the “reasonable likelihood” or the broader “substantial probability” test. It found that the potential jury pool exceeded the circulation of Press-Enterprise by a significant margin, and that release of the entire transcript should not make it difficult to find impartial jurors.

The appeals court also noted that the trial court had alternatives to sealing the transcript, such as a change of venue.

Scott appealed to the California Supreme Court on behalf of the trial court in March 1994. Only two of the necessary four justices voted to hear the appeal.

(Press-Enterprise v. Superior Court; Media Counsel: Sharon Waters, Riverside)

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