Judge overturns own decision to compel paper to reveal photos
MINNESOTA–A Hennepin County judge ruled in late December that the University of Minnesota student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily, need not turn over photographs as evidence in an assault case.
The paper had refused to obey a subpoena from the prosecutor’s office demanding that it hand over photographs taken of students at a neo-Nazi rally in 1993 which erupted into fighting. The judge originally held that the paper must turn over the photos so that he could review the photographs in chambers, but reversed himself after the case was returned from an appellate court.
The trial court found that the paper did not have to hand over the photographs because of a qualified privilege under the U.S. and Minnesota constitutions. The court noted that while journalists are not exempt from responding to grand jury subpoenas and answering questions pertaining to criminal investigations, First Amendment rights require special safeguards.
Since requiring the press to turn over unpublished photographs could chill press freedoms, the trial court found that overriding and compelling reasons must be shown to force a journalist to provide unpublished materials. In addition, such materials need not be turned over by the press if “alternative sources of information are available that are less destructive of press freedoms.”
Originally, the trial court had found that the university newspaper should be compelled to obey the subpoena. However, an appeals court found that while it did not apply under the facts of the case as presented, a journalist’s qualified privilege could apply. The trial court’s earlier decision had assumed the privilege could not apply to unpublished photographs.
Prosecutors alleged that the photographs would clear up conflicting eyewitness reports concerning a charge of felony assault. One disputed fact was whether one party was wearing brass knuckles, which would be pertinent to the issue of self-defense, prosecutors argued. However, the trial court found that sufficient other evidence was at the prosecution’s disposal. (Minnesota v. Knutson; Media Counsel: Marshall H. Tanick)