In early August, a California appeals court upheld the dismissal of charges against a news photographer who was arrested in July 1994 for interfering with police. Prosecutors said they would not challenge the decision.
The three-judge Superior Court panel in Bakersfield refused to overturn a municipal judge’s ruling, which stated that allowing exclusion of the photographer from an accident scene would create a chilling effect on free press rights. The judge also relied on a California law that gives the news media access to accident scenes.
John Harte, a 14-year veteran with the Bakersfield Californian, was arrested when trying to take pictures of a 9-year-old drowning victim being pulled from a canal. Harte contended that he was not in the way of police and had a right to be on the scene.
A newspaper reporter who refused to reveal her sources for a story she wrote about Susan Smith’s mental condition will not have to go to jail.
In late July, Circuit Court Judge William Howard of Union, S.C., said that Twila Decker, a reporter for The (Columbia) State, could go free after she swore under oath that her source was not someone subject to a gag order issued by the judge.
Decker had reported that Smith, who was at the time awaiting trial for the murders of her two children, was found competent to stand trial by state psychiatric examiners. Mental hospital staff, court officials and attorneys were under a court order to keep the contents of the report secret.
Decker was found in contempt and ordered to jail in late May when she refused to reveal her source. She was allowed to remain free, however, while she appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.