From the Summer 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 20.
One of the most controversial recommendations of an American Bar Association commission is the proposal to automatically close all criminal cases that did not result in convictions. “It is completely unpalatable that O.J. Simpson’s or Michael Jackson’s criminal records would be out of reach,” media lawyer Chuck Tobin said.
The commission recommendation says the public should be able to ask to get a file unsealed. But the burden and the costs would shift to the media and public, instead of being shouldered by a person who wants the file sealed.
Here are some other (in)famous cases that would be off-limits if governments enacted laws based on the commission’s recommendations:
Claus von Büow: In 1982, the New England society figure and financier was found guilty of trying to murder his wife with insulin injections. The Rhode Island Supreme Court set aside the convictions and ordered a new trial in 1984, and a new jury acquitted von Büow of all charges the next year.
Stacey C. Koon, Laurence M. Powell, Timothy E. Wind and Theodore J. Briseno: The four Los Angeles police officers (shown clockwise, starting at upper left) were found not guilty on multiple counts, including assault with a deadly weapon and assault under color of authority, in the March 1991 beating of motorist Rodney King. The jury deadlocked on another count of assault against Powell, which was then dismissed. Koon and Powell were later convicted of violating King’s civil rights in federal court; Wind and Briseno were again acquitted.
Robert Blake: The actor was acquitted in 2005 of murder and solicitation of murder in the shooting death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakely. The jury could not agree on a second solicitation count, which the court later dismissed.
Arthur Andersen LLP: The company was found guilty in 2002 for one count of obstruction of justice for its role as Enron’s accounting firm. A federal appeals court in New Orleans (5th Cir.) upheld the conviction in 2004, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the criminal conviction in 2005 due to flawed jury instructions.
Kenneth Lay: Lay, who served as Enron’s chief executive, was found guilty in May 2006 of 10 counts of conspiracy and fraud for his part in the collapse of Enron. However, in July 2006, Lay died of a heart attack while vacationing with his wife. In October, a federal trial judge set aside the guilty verdict because Lay’s death pending appeal meant he could not fully challenge his conviction. LC