The California Court of Appeal threw out a lower court's order prohibiting the Los Angeles Times from publishing photographs of a defendant on trial for murder last week.
"[W]e conclude the superior court's order precluding publication of photographs lawfully taken unconstitutionally violates the prohibition against prior restraint of speech," wrote Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sanjay T. Kumar in an unanimous opinion.
Judge Hilleri G. Merritt had previously issued the order against L.A. Times photographer Al Seib during a hearing on August 4th. Merritt had originally granted permission to Seib to take photographs of defendant Alberd Tersargyan, then withdrew permission when counsel for Tersargyan argued that the publication of pictures jeopardized his defendant's right to a fair trial.
Merritt claimed that her ruling was necessary to balance competing interests in the case.
The appellate court disagreed with Merritt's ruling, calling the order an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech.
The record does not demonstrate that the defendant's rights are at risk without the prior restraint, said the court.
It added that "given the fact the media has previously published photographs of the defendant in connection with the charges in this case, it is not probable that defendant's right to a fair trial would be threatened by the publication of additional photographs."