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Judge rejects request to exclude media from hearing

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Judge rejects request to exclude media from hearing 12/16/96 NEW YORK--In early December, a state trial court judge in Rochester…

Judge rejects request to exclude media from hearing

12/16/96

NEW YORK–In early December, a state trial court judge in Rochester denied a murder defendant’s motion to exclude the press, but not the public, from a suppression hearing to determine the admissibility of a confession made by the defendant to the police.

Mark Christie, a 24-year-old security guard, is accused of strangling 4-year-old Kali Ann Poulton in his apartment shortly after she disappeared from outside her home in Pittsford, a Rochester suburb.

In late October, Christie’s lawyers asked the court to bar reporters from the suppression hearing, arguing that Christie would be prejudiced if potential jurors learned details of his statements through media reports, particularly if the court ultimately excluded the statements from trial. The lawyers are trying to suppress the statements on the ground that they were obtained in violation of Christie’s constitutional rights.

Rochester newspapers and television stations challenged the defense motion, arguing that the press has the same First Amendment right of access to criminal proceedings as the public. The media organizations further argued that excluding the press would not prevent accounts of the proceedings from being published if the public was allowed access. The prosection also opposed the motion.

Judge Harold Galloway rejected the motion as an attempt to exclude “one part of the public, i.e., the media.” Noting his obligation to balance the media’s First Amendment right of access to criminal proceedings against the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial, Galloway stated that because the focus of the hearing would be on the circumstances surrounding the procurement of the statements rather than on their substance, news reports of the hearing would not “seriously threaten” Christie’s fair trial right.

The media intervenors included the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Rochester Times-Union, WOKR-TV and Time-Warner Communications. (New York v. Christie; Media Counsel: Richard Rochford, Rochester)