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Television station can air videotaped confession

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         PENNSYLVANIA         Secret Courts         Jul 5, 2000    

Television station can air videotaped confession

  • Court finds in favor of public’s right to copy and broadcast judicial records that had been played during concluded murder trial.

A Philadelphia trial judge has ruled that the public’s right to copy judicial records included a television station’s right to air a convicted murder defendant’s videotaped confession that had been played at his trial.

According to The Legal Intelligencer, Common Pleas Judge James Fitzgerald allowed WPVI-TV to broadcast the videotaped statement of James Gallman, which was played for the jury in the courtroom at Gallman’s trial. Gallman was later convicted of third-degree murder and sentenced to seven-to-20 years in prison.

In his opinion, Fitzgerald said that “there is a strong presumption in favor of the public’s right to inspect and copy judicial records” and that “there is a public interest in whether or not confessions should be videotaped, and a concurrent interest in observing and understanding the process.” Fitzgerald also noted that release of the videotape for airing on television neither serves as an additional punishment for Gallman nor impedes the administration of justice, according to the Intelligencer.

Fitzgerald weighed the public’s interest in access to judicial records and the defendant’s right to a fair trial and found in favor of the former legal interest, in part because Gallman’s trial has already concluded.

The station argued that it only sought access to the videotaped statement because it was introduced into evidence at Gallman’s trial, unlike the vast majority of such videotaped statements. By using it in front of the jury, prosecutors had transformed the videotape into a “judicial record” subject to copying by any member of the public, the television station argued.

Prosecutors had also allegedly shown the videotaped confession to a newspaper reporter.

The station’s request for access to the tape had been opposed by both prosecutors and defense counsel. Prosecutors initially rebuffed the station’s request for the tape, arguing that broadcast of the tape “could undermine the law enforcement utility” of videotaping confessions by impeding subsequent police efforts to get suspects to confess in front of a video camera, according to the Intelligencer.

In its court filings, the station responded that it was not claiming an “automatic right” to copy any videotaped statement. “Since there has been only one case since September 1998 in which a videotaped confession became a judicial record subject to copying by the media, a murder suspect has absolutely no basis to presume that his taped confession will automatically be subject to access and dissemination by the news media.”

Gallman was arrested in February 1999 on charges of murdering his 2-year-old stepson, Vladimir Marchuk, according to the Intelligencer. Gallman then signed a written statement and agreed to speak on videotape. He later argued that his confession was invalid and pleaded not guilty, according to the Intelligencer.

(Pennsylvania v. Gallman; Media Counsel: Burt Rublin, Philadelphia) GK

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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