The U.S. Supreme Court should review a journalist’s conviction under a pornography law, and grant him a new trial where he could argue to the jury that his actions were protected by the First Amendment, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argued in a friend-of-the-court brief.
Journalist Larry Matthews pleaded guilty to charges of receiving and transmitting illegal images of child pornography in 1998, after the judge granted the prosecutor’s motion barring Matthews from presenting a First Amendment-based defense the jury. He is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case.
“Some of the best investigative journalism has been done by reporters who were able to gain the confidence of criminals and expose their wrongdoing,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish. “Larry Matthews should be allowed to present evidence to a jury that he was practicing journalism — not trafficking in child pornography.”
The Reporters Committee, joined by National Public Radio, Inc., the Radio-Television News Directors Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists, argued that “in a situation like that in the case before the Court, where the journalist’s work concerned a matter of great public importance — the exploitation of children in the production of child pornography — and where lawmakers are making the laws even more strict in order to fight such exploitation, it becomes imperative that those who tackle these issues in the name of the public interest be allowed to fully and fairly defend themselves at trial.”
The journalism organizations proposed that the high court find that journalists — and others engaged in constitutionally protected activities — who are prosecuted for technical violations of the law that do not cause the harm meant to be avoided should, at a minimum, be allowed to argue before juries that their actions were protected by the First Amendment. The group stressed that it did not propose that journalists be given a “license” to violate the law, but a defense at trial.
The amicus curiae brief can be found on the Reporters Committee’s web site at: https://www.rcfp.org/news/documents/matthews_petn.html