A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: first amendment

Monetizing Mug Shots: A Legal Analysis

Jane Lynch Mugshot

By Zachary Edelman

A picture is worth a thousand words. And when that picture is a mug shot it might be worth a whole lot more.

That not so attractive mug shot of you (who are we kidding?) — that godawful shot of you –for a DWI that you prayed nobody would ever see? It’s the first thing that comes up in Google searches of your name, thanks to websites like JustMugshots.com, BustedMugshots.com and FindMugshots.com, which compile mug shots from public records and put them into easy-to-search databases. And they’re getting rich doing it. Some sites charge up to $400 to remove your photo from their database. The problem: Many people don’t have that kind of money. And even if they do, once they pay one site that incriminating photo just pops up on another one.

Some people have decided they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, and are suing the websites purveying the embarrassing pics. After all, people demanding money to delete photographs – or else – is extortion, isn’t it?

A lawyer for BustedMugshots.com and MugshotsOnline.com argues that the First Amendment protects the websites’ practices because mug shots are public records.

But Scott Ciolek, representing Ms. Lashaway and Mr. Kaplan, vehemently disagrees. He says the First Amendment argument is “logically false” adding that, “The law prohibits demanding money to stop embarrassing somebody”.

Many media outlets have reported on the lawsuit, but none have assessed its legal merits.

LASIS zooms in.

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A Journalist’s Right to Remain Silent

Jana Winter

By Jennifer Williams

Journalists connect us to places, times, and events that we would otherwise know nothing about. They tell us what to talk about. What to think about. Sometimes, they take us places we wouldn’t travel to were it not for them. Christopher Hitchens let us experience waterboarding. Julius Chambers let us struggle with him at the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. Sometimes, they even change the course of history. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered one of the biggest political scandals in American history. Their work directly led to the resignation of a president.

But this incredible power comes with risks. Journalists may only be able to break a story by relying on sources who speak on the condition of anonymity. And though there are laws that help protect journalists and their sources, called shield laws, they’re not foolproof. In 2006, Josh Wolf, a freelance journalist, spent 226 days in jail for refusing to hand over video footage that law enforcement authorities said depicted protestors damaging a police car. Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times, spent 85 days in jail after failing to reveal her source in leaking the identity of a CIA agent in 2005.

And now, Jana Winter is staring down jail time in the name of protecting her sources. Fox News sent Ms. Winter to Aurora, Colorado to cover James Holmes and the July, 2012 movie theater shooting. Later that month she broke an exclusive story about a notebook that Mr. Holmes had sent to a University of Colorado psychiatrist, which, contained “details about how he was going to kill people.”

She learned this from a source within law enforcement to whom she guaranteed anonymity.

If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have had the story. We wouldn’t have had the story.

Mr. Holmes’ attorneys now claim that the killer’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial, as well as a court ordered gag order, were violated by Ms. Winter’s reporting. They’re hoping that Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour, Jr. will offer Ms. Winter two choices: reveal your sources — or go to jail.

While Judge Samour has delayed the decision pending a determination of whether the notebook will be admissible as evidence in Mr. Holmes’ trial, there may come a day when Ms. Winter will be asked by a court to reveal the identity of her sources. Should she have to? No. But is the law on her side? LASIS investigates.

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Fast Times For Lil Poopy

Lil Poopy rapping

By Jennifer Williams

The role of Michelle Tanner, the youngest of three daughters on the hit television show, “Full House,” was played by twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. They were cast when they were just six months old.

Abigail Breslin made her on-screen debut at just three years old in a television commercial. At five she starred alongside Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix in “Signs.” And at six she was cast as the lovable Olive Hoover in “Little Miss Sunshine,” a role that would earn her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 2007 Academy Awards.

And then there is Luie Rivera Jr., aka “Lil Poopy” or “Coke Boy.” Mr. Rivera, like the Olsen twins and Ms. Breslin, has found his calling early. He’s just nine years old, but he’s already gaining the attention of  “powerful people” like P. Diddy and French Montana.

A music video starring Lil Poopy has recently created a stir because the young rapper is seen slapping a grown woman’s behind and repeating the phrase “coke ain’t a bad word.” The video triggered an investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) after local police filed a complaint against the rapper’s father, Luis Rivera, alleging child abuse and/or neglect.

The Rivera’s attorney, Joseph Krowski, claims that young Luie has First Amendment protection to rap about whatever he wants, even if people find the content offensive or distasteful.

LASIS wondered if, in fact, Lil Poopy can rap freely under protection of the First Amendment.

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The Right to Panhandle

Ted Williams

By LASIS Staff

From today’s New York Times:

“With the downturn in the economy, cities across the country have been cracking down on an apparent rise in aggressive panhandling, while advocates for the homeless and civil liberties groups contend that sweeping bans on begging go too far.”

As the article points out, laws delineating what exactly constitutes “aggressive panhandling” vary state by state.

See here for the LASIS analysis of panhandling under New York law.

 

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Go Ahead, Critique the Commander-in-Chief

Marines

By Russell Smith

President Obama hasn’t hesitated to silence critics of his military policy.

First, he kept Private Bradley Manning in solitary confinement for months after Pvt. Manning allegedly leaked thousands of military documents revealing U.S. human rights abuses to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. Then President Obama pressured Yemen to jail a journalist who uncovered evidence that the U.S. was lying about missiles lent to Yemen and used in a strike that killed Yemeni citizens. Now President Obama is discharging U.S. Marine Corp Sergeant Gary Stein for posting critical comments of the president and his military leadership on Facebook.

Sgt. Stein is 26 years-old, a nine-year veteran, and a Tea Partier. His Facebook group, Armed Forces Tea Party, critiques liberal politicians and policies. An example the group’s sharp wit: superimposing the faces of President Obama, Vice President Biden and Rep. Nancy Pelosi onto the movie poster for “The Incredibles“, but with renamed title, “The Horribles“.

Okay, not that witty. But perfectly legal.

In 2010, the notoriety of the Armed Forces Tea Party got Sgt. Stein an invite to appear on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” – but at the Marine Corps’ command, Sgt. Stein declined. At the time, Sgt. Stein was also directed to put a disclaimer on the Armed Forces Tea Party group, indicating it was not affiliated with the Marine Corps. He agreed and did so.

But two years later, Sgt. Stein received notice that his political postings constituted “serious misconduct” mandating the termination of his service to his country.

Sgt. Stein’s “other-than-honorable” discharge – resulting in a loss of rank and veteran’s benefits – has drawn reactions from politicians to pundits. Lawyers from the ACLU and the U.S. Justice Foundation have claimed that discharging Sgt. Stein for his political speech would violate his first amendment rights and have pledged to file a federal lawsuit on his behalf.  But some members of the media disagree, arguing that soldiers must give up their first amendment rights and fall in line behind their commander-in-chief.   (more…)

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