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Newspaper appeals court closure in sexual predator case

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    NMU         MISSOURI         Secret Courts         Dec 13, 2000    

Newspaper appeals court closure in sexual predator case

  • The Joplin Globe appealed a court’s order to close the courtroom in a sexual predator commitment proceeding, and asked for a tape of the trial.

The Joplin Globe has appealed a trial judge’s decision to close the civil confinement proceeding of a convicted rapist. The newspaper asked the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District to order the trial court to release an audio tape of the proceeding and prevent future closures of similar hearings.

The proceeding, held on Nov. 14 and 15 in Pineville, Mo., determined whether Jamin Shafer should be committed to a state treatment program for dangerous sex offenders. The state sexual predator law, in effect since last year, allows for commitment of sex offenders after completing their prison terms.

Shafer’s attorneys asked the trial court to close the commitment trial, and over objections from the media, the judge granted the motion. The judge based his decision on provisions of another law in the probate code that allows for closure of hearings to commit individuals who become a danger to themselves or others.

The Globe argued that the sexual predator law does not include a provision for closing trials, unlike the other commitment law. The Globe also argued that the judge erred when he refused to let a Globe reporter object to the closure on the record. The Globe contended that Missouri law requires a court give notice to the public before it closes a trial and must allow the public to make objections to such a closure.

(State ex rel. Ottoway Newspapers, Inc. v. LePage; Media Counsel: Charles Buchanan, Buchanan & Williams, Joplin) AG

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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