In the backdrop of mounting media attention, the attorneys for two boys withdrew their motion on Monday to charge a 17-year-old Kentucky teenager for contempt after she potentially violated a court order by identifying them on Twitter as her attackers in a juvenile sexual assault case.
“There you go, lock me up,” Savannah Dietrich tweeted when she named the teens who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting her. “I’m not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell.”
Apparently frustrated by a plea deal her attackers reached in juvenile court, Dietrich may have also violated the gag order when she spoke to The Courier-Journal in Louisville. The details of the teens' plea agreement are closed to the public but Dietrich said that in an oral admonition, the presiding judge barred anyone involved from publicly discussing the legal proceedings.
“It’s a gag barring the victim from telling the world what happened to her,” said Jon L. Fleischaker, The Courier-Journal''s attorney. "It’s of monumental importance when you tell the victim she can’t talk to the press that’s trying to get information about what happened to her."
After Dietrich identified them, attorneys for the teens submitted a motion to hold her in contempt – a charge that carries a sentence of up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine. But after the case received widespread media attention, their attorneys withdrew the request. In an interview with The Associated Press, David S. Mejia, one of the boys’ attorneys, said the motion for contempt was not dropped because of the negative attention it received.
"The horse is out of the barn," the AP quoted Mejia as saying. "Nothing is bringing it back."
An online petition posted on Change.org that called for no charges to be brought against Dietrich "for naming her rapists" received more than 110,000 signatures as of Tuesday mid-afternoon.
Dietrich has told the media that the boys sexually assaulted her at a party and photographed the incident. She also said that she drank too much and had passed out before the attack. The teens pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism on June 26 and are awaiting sentencing.
"So many of my rights have been taken away by these boys," Dietrich told The Courier-Journal. "I'm at the point that if I have to go to jail for my rights, I will do it.”
As was Dietrich’s case, juvenile court proceedings are presumptively closed to the public in Kentucky. But exceptions are occasionally made when a court finds it is in the public interest to grant access to a particular party or the media.
Dietrich should “not be legally barred from talking about what happened to her,” Gregg Leslie, interim executive director of the Reporters Committee, told The Courier-Journal. “That’s a wide-ranging restraint on speech.”
He added that because the case and its court records are closed, the public does not know if Dietrich actually violated any gag orders when tweeting and talking about her sexual assault.
Before her attackers dropped their motion to hold her in contempt, Dietrich's attorneys and The Courier-Journal submitted their own requests to open those particular court proceedings, which would have been held at the Jefferson County District Court in Kentucky.
"Total confidentiality of legal proceedings is offensive to the right to know . . . and the right of the participant to talk about what’s going on," said Fleischaker. "There’s simply something un-American about that.”
Emily Farrar-Crocket, Dietrich’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.
Related Reporters Committee resources:
· Secret Justice: Access to Juvenile Justice: Kentucky