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Judge allows color photos of murder suspects

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Prior Restraints         Jan 4, 2002    

Judge allows color photos of murder suspects

  • A county judge in California allowed defendants to wear street clothes rather than forbid the press to publish color photographs in the court’s effort to prevent implications of guilt.

A county judge in California reversed an earlier order that barred Lake Tahoe-area newspapers from publishing color photos of a couple charged with murder, instead allowing the defendants to wear street clothes during trial.

Lisa Ann Platz and James Csucsai face murder charges that include kidnapping and use of a knife. Platz’s 9-year-old daughter was found dead in a tent with her throat slashed on Sept. 21.

The order had been issued in response to a motion that the defendants be permitted to wear street clothes, rather than orange jail jumpsuits, to hearings because the jumpsuits implied guilt. Judge Jerald Lasarow of El Dorado County on Dec. 13 denied the motion to permit the couple to wear street clothes but agreed with the couple’s attorney that color photos would be prejudicial because showing the defendants in orange jail jumpsuits might taint the jury pool. Lasarow said the photos could make the jurors subconsciously believe the couple was guilty before the trial began.

However, the order had been entered without giving local newspapers an opportunity to object. The Tahoe Daily Tribune asked Lasarow to reconsider the order.

On Dec. 20, after hearing arguments from the press, Lasarow reversed the order. Lasarow issued a new order that permits the defendants to wear street clothes at hearings and removed the restrictions on the press.

James Houpt, attorney for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, stated that Lasarow “did the right thing” by reversing the order.

“Whether the newspaper can publish color or black-and-white photos of a defendant may seem like a trivial thing,” Houpt said, “but the freedom to report the news without censorship of any kind is vitally important to the press.”

(State v. Platz; Media Counsel, James Houpt, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, Sacramento, Calif.) AG

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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