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Media requests access to sniper suspect's juvenile court records

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Media requests access to sniper suspect’s juvenile court records

  • After authorities transferred Lee Boyd Malvo from juvenile to adult federal court, news organizations argued that his records should be made public.

Feb. 6, 2003 — At oral arguments held yesterday, four news organizations requested that U.S. Magistrate Judge James K. Bredar provide access to the juvenile court records of 17-year-old accused sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo now that he is being prosecuted as an adult.

This is not the first time the media has come to Bredar for access to these juvenile court records. In November, Bredar refused access to Malvo’s case while it was pending in federal juvenile court in the District of Maryland.

However, Bredar noted that “should this matter be the subject of a later government motion to transfer it to adult court, and should that motion be granted, then [media] petitioners can certainly seek access to the records and transcripts of all proceedings that have gone before.”

Taking Bredar’s advice, once Malvo’s case moved from juvenile to adult federal court, The Washington Post, The (Baltimore) Sun, The Associated Press, and The New York Times filed a motion Jan. 21 to unseal the juvenile court’s records and transcripts of all proceedings.

The news organizations stressed the benefits that access to Malvo’s juvenile proceedings would provide.

“The public interest in this proceeding is paramount, as the Defendant has been accused of terrorizing our community,” the media organizations argued in their motion. “The proceedings before this Court implicated the public safety, the administration of our criminal justice system, and the public’s desire for retribution and deterrence.”

As the news organizations explained, any arguments that existed to seal Malvo’s juvenile court records no longer exist.

“The Court’s first concern was that public access to the detention hearing might interfere with the rehabilitative goal of juvenile proceedings. As Malvo will now be tried as an adult, and not in a juvenile proceeding, this concern is no longer applicable,” the news organizations wrote.

“The Court’s second concern was that the potential to stigmatize Malvo publicly. Given that Malvo will be tried in open court as an adult in Fairfax County, Virginia — and that all of the proceedings in that case have been open to the public — this concern is also inapplicable,” the news organizations continued.

With the media’s motion in hand, Bredar heard oral arguments.

“The judge did not decide the motion and he asked for additional information to be provided to him,” said Lisa Duggan, an attorney representing the news organizations.

He asked for a copy of the transcript of the preliminary hearing held in Virginia that was open to the public, said Duggan, who believed the judge would use this transcript to determine what was publically discussed in that public hearing and compare it with Malvo’s sealed juvenile file.

(In re Washington Post Request to Open Juvenile Detention Hearing: Media Counsel: Lisa M. Duggan, Williams & Connolly LLP, Washington, D.C.) ST

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© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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