Fla has a broad standard on public information and while I undertand their concerns, why should this case be an exception? The whole public outrage was about wanting a thorough investigation and a trial.
May. 31, 2012
No private evidence in Zimmerman trial
The Miami Herald Editorial
Florida’s public records law, one of the strongest in the country, guarantees public access to evidence in criminal trials. Yet every time a headline-making criminal case pops up, attorneys routinely attempt to suppress information by asking for a “protective order” to keep the evidence under wraps and courts routinely turn them back. Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Lester should follow suit in the case of George Zimmerman.
Mr. Zimmerman is accused of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin in a case that has unleashed a thousand pundits. Because of the racial elements, it has drawn more attention than any comparable case since the trial of O.J. Simpson. Both the defendant and the victim have been the targets of character assassination and wildly false or misleading information.
Courts have an obligation to take extra care to preserve the defendant’s right to fair trial in such instances. But that does not mean that Florida’s tradition of openness and decades of court rulings upholding the provisions of the public records law covering criminal cases should be ignored.
Unusually, in the Zimmerman case, prosecutors and defense attorneys have joined together to ask the court to keep much of the evidence under protective seal. The court denied an earlier motion to keep the entire record sealed, but that has not deterred attorneys from trying to accomplish much the same end in a more selective motion of breath-taking scope.
The motion filed last week by Assistant State Attorney Bernardo de la Rionda asked Judge Lester to suppress a wealth of evidence subject to public disclosure.
It encompasses the names, addresses and phone numbers of 22 witnesses, crime scene photos and autopsy photos and any others showing the victim’s body, the 911 call that captured the shooting (already widely available on the Internet), Mr. Zimmerman’s statements to police, and cell phone records. (News media organizations have agreed not to take possession of autopsy photographs, but they seek the court’s acknowledgement that such photographs are not exempt in criminal cases.)
Defense attorney Mark O’Mara said disclosure would “adversely affect the proper administration of justice in this case, and may make it impossible to find an appropriate jury unaffected by thisinformation.” If that were the case, however, courts would routinely uphold such requests, but Florida case law requires courts to give greater weight to the right of public disclosure except in limited circumstances.
None of the requested exclusions would qualify as exemptions. Confessions are exempt, for example, but Mr. Zimmerman has not confessed to any guilt in this instance. Instead, the prosecution is seeking to exclude statements that are “contradictory and inconsistent with the physical elements and statements of witnesses; or statements that could be used against him.” Attorneys for the news media rightly said this “far exceeds what the law permits to be treated as a confession.”
Courts in this state have declared that Florida’s Public Records Act is “construed liberally in favor of openness.” Too often, attorneys choose to ignore this rule in pleading for exemptions.
Judge Lester, who has scheduled a hearing for Friday, should take extra care to ensure that along with preserving the defendant’s right to a fair trial he also preserves the right of public access to public records, including evidence in the Zimmerman case.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/3...#storylink=cpy