Restraint on media against identifying witnesses overturned
TENNESSEE–The media may report the identities of witnesses who testified in open court in a triple murder case in a Shelby County Criminal Court following the reversal of an order prohibiting them from doing so. In late May, the Court of Criminal Appeals in Memphis said the lower court’s order was an affront to both the federal and state constitutions.
The appeals court noted that “[i]t has long been established that what occurs in a public courtroom constitutes public property.” The court also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has “reiterated … on numerous occasions [that] when there is an open, public trial, the media has an absolute right to publish any information that is disseminated during the course of the trial.”
The trial court instituted the restraining order at the behest of the prosecution, which said it feared that criminal drug cartel associates of the defendants would harm or intimidate witnesses. They noted that an officer from the jail holding the defendants was gunned down in his driveway and other witnesses had allegedly been threatened.
The order originally halted reporting that would identify nine witnesses, but was pared down to only one witness after the trial judge met with counsel for The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal. The paper pointed out that at least half the names on the list had already appeared in news reports. The Commercial Appeal then appealed the order regarding the final witness. (Tennessee v. Montgomery v. Memphis Publishing Company; Media Counsel: Paul Prather, Memphis)