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Judge to rule on Florida's autopsy photo law

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    NMU         FLORIDA         Freedom of Information         Mar 13, 2002    

Judge to rule on Florida’s autopsy photo law

  • The law prohibiting the release of autopsy photos may not withstand constitutional challenges in Broward County if the judge decides in the coming weeks that only “hurt feelings” were at stake.

A Broward County Circuit Court judge said he would decide in two to three weeks whether a state law that makes it a criminal offense to make autopsy photos accessible to the public is an unconstitutional violation of Florida’s open records laws.

“I’m not too sure the Constitution protects hurt feelings,” Judge Leroy Moe said at a March 5 hearing. “The Constitution of the state of Florida trumps those feelings.”

Florida officials say the law lessens the effects the release of autopsy photos would have on relatives. The law, passed last year after the death of NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt in Daytona, prohibits viewing or copying autopsy photos without a court order. To do so would be a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The Sun-Sentinel , the Orlando Sentinel and several other media organizations challenged the law after the Broward medical examiner refused to allow access to photos of people who died in the last year. The newspapers claim the law, which requires a requestor to show a judge good cause to obtain access to autopsy photos, has been interfering with civil and criminal cases, as well as medical research and education.

There has been “significant inconsistent application of what that good cause standard means,” said David Bralow, an attorney for the Tribune Co., owner of both the Sun-Sentinel and the Orlando Sentinel .

Several news media organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

(Orlando Sentinel Communications Co. v. Perper. Media counsel: David Bralow, Orlando) MM

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