A coalition of news outlets and the families of murder victims appeared in court in Idaho on Friday with the same goal in mind of challenging the gag order.
Two separate hearings were held on Friday in the criminal case against Washington State University criminology graduate student Brian Coberger, who is accused of stabbing to death four University of Idaho students in his off-campus home. A not guilty plea has been filed on his behalf and a trial is scheduled for October.
The brutality of the killings and the lack of clarity about the ties to the friend group made the case one of the most high-profile cases in US news.
But widespread gag orders bar prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims’ families and witnesses’ attorneys from speaking publicly unless they are already on the public record.
Gag orders are common in high-profile cases, such as the man accused of January’s shooting in Halfmoon Bay, Calif., and the manslaughter trial against the parents of Oxford high school shooter Ethan Cranbury. Thing.
In Idaho, Latter County District Court Judge John Judge said Friday that he will review the arguments and make a decision on the request to lift the gag order. He did not provide a timeline for when that decision will be made.
The judge heard from Shannon Gray, the family attorney for Cary Gonsalves, one of four victims, and a coalition of news outlets during two consecutive hearings on Friday.
Ms. Gray asked the judge to amend the gag order so that she could speak publicly on behalf of her client, saying it restricted her right to free speech.
In the late afternoon, the media coalition told a judge to completely rescind the gag order, saying it was “vague, too broad, unfairly restrictive, and not narrowly defined,” according to court documents. claimed.
Attorney Wendy Olson, who represents the media, said the group wants “the media to have accurate information so that the public can better understand all this.”
The double hearing refocused on the gag decree (a colorful term for what is technically known as a “barring order”).
At its most basic level, a gag order places limits on what information can be made public and what certain people involved in an incident can say.
The idea, according to Samuel Newton, assistant professor of law at the University of Idaho, is a balance between the First Amendment right to free speech and the Sixth Amendment right to a defendant’s right to a fair trial. It is said that it is to take The concern is that too much commentary and publicity about the case could create an already determined jury.
“What you’re worried about is the whole (jury’s) pool getting dirty,” Newton said.
Gagging is just one of many strategies a judge can take to eliminate juror bias. You can also move the trial to another venue, create jury questionnaires, and isolate the jury during the trial.
But when does restricting speech on a case of such public interest go too far? What are the limits?
On November 13, 2022, University of Idaho students Cary Gonsalves, Ethan Chapin, Xana Carnodle, and Madison Morgen were murdered in their off-campus apartment.
An arrest warrant and criminal affidavit against Coberger were issued on December 29, 2022, and within a week the prosecution and defense jointly agreed to a gag order.
The Jan. 3 order states that “investigators, law enforcement officers, attorneys, and representatives of prosecutors and defense attorneys shall not have any information, whether written or oral, regarding this case, except for quotations or references without comment. Prohibited from making statutory statements.” , is the public record of the incident,” wrote Justice of the Peace Megan Marshall.
The Order specifically prohibits commentary on evidence of events or transactions, the character or criminal record of the parties, opinions on the merits of the case, and “the existence or content of any confessions, confessions or statements made by the defendant.”
The gag order was then expanded by a modified nondisclosure order issued on January 18. The amended order said the restrictions apply not only to the prosecution and the defense, but also to “attorneys representing witnesses, victims, or families of victims.” The Order further prohibited any statement about the character or criminal record of a “party, victim, or witness,” or the identity of a witness, or the prospective testimony of a party, victim, or witness.
“There is a balance between protecting the right of all parties to a fair trial and the right to free expression recognized under the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution,” the amendment order explains. are doing. “In order to protect the right to a fair trial, some restraint on the dissemination of information on this matter is necessary and permitted under the law.”
For the Gonsalves family, the correction order went too far. Mr. Gray, the family’s attorney, said there should be no restrictions on what he can speak on behalf of the Gonsalves family and has filed a motion challenging this.
Kaley’s father, Steve Gonsalves, told CNN on May 23, “He’s not speaking for himself, he’s speaking for his family.” “What’s the point of having a lawyer if the judge can say your lawyer can’t speak?”
Separately, the press federation petitioned the district court to lift the gag order for other reasons. A coalition called the “Associated Press and others” said in a May 1 filing that the gag order was too broad, and the court provided no evidence that the media coverage posed a risk to Mr. Koberger’s right to a fair trial. claimed not to.
“Gag orders under the provisions of the State Party are simply based on the premise that the press is bad. The U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution demand much more.”
The filing specifically points to several instances of the gag order’s impact on journalists. For example, the agency cited gag orders when refusing to release tapes of 911 calls and public records requests, the filing said.
The media coalition had initially asked the Idaho Supreme Court to rescind the gag order. The court agreed to the order restricting press freedom, but the state Supreme Court said it was not the proper venue and refused to revoke the order.
Coberger’s legal team said courts have broad powers to restrict lawyers’ speech, and media attention, particularly the recent “Date Line NBC” feature, threatens the right to a fair trial. and pushed back with a motion.
“This incident and similar media reports have resulted in a constant feedback loop of people crying for Mr. Koberger’s blood,” defense attorneys wrote.
Similarly, state prosecutors oppose the amendment to the restraining order, saying the restrictions on attorneys’ statements are “not vague, broad, or unduly restrictive.”
Gag orders have also been used in other large-scale mass murder cases that have received significant public attention.
One such case is the trial of Jennifer and James Cranbury, parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Cranbury. His parents pleaded not guilty to four counts of manslaughter, alleging prosecutors were “grossly negligent” in buying a gun and ignoring his son’s warning signs.
Prosecutors have repeatedly criticized the couple publicly, and the couple, who were arrested following a raid, were shown on CNN video.
Last year, the defense filed a motion to limit pretrial publicity, but Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said their request was “consistent with the conduct they are being brought to this court, and they are I’m only worried about us,” he protested.
After a series of back-and-forth submissions, the court issued a restraining order and a correction order on the case.
“In order to protect the rights of defendants and the public to a fair trial, no party, either directly or through its agents, shall engage in pretrial publicity, including making public statements about the case to the media. I hereby order what not to do,” Judge Sherrill Matthews wrote in an amended order on July 14, 2022.
Similarly, a suspect in the Half Moon Bay shooting that killed seven people in January asked for and was granted a gag order in his case, according to CNN affiliate KGO. The ruling barred either party from speaking about the case out of court.
The shooting suspect, Cho Chun-Li, has pleaded not guilty.