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Court ruling sets possible precedent regarding anonymous comments

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Andy _ Kent, May 18, 2009.

  1. Andy _ Kent

    Andy _ Kent Member

    I wonder how big a can of worms this ruling just opened up:


    The second paragraph in the story really intriugues me:

    Sorry Your Honor, but that to me is about as slippery a slope as there is. How do you know what is and is not irrelevant when it comes to a potential jury pool?

    Now I know comments underneath a run-of-the-mill sports gamer like yesterday's Game 7s (Lakers/Rockets or Magic/Celtics) should be considered completely different animals than those that come at the end of a story about an ongoing murder investigation, but back when Kobe's alleged rape story was still under investigation, how can you ignore comments under a Lakers gamer that directly address the rape charge? And then you move onto comments about Marvin Harrison, Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, Marshawn Lynch, etc., etc.

    This could get very interesting. 8)
  2. PopeDirkBenedict

    PopeDirkBenedict Active Member

    This isn't a jury pool story, tho. This is about the difference between a comment that says "Kobe is innocent because groupies always try to set up athletes" vs. a comment that says, "The rape victim told me she planned to set up Kobe Bryant." The first is just mouthing off. The second is potential evidence. And the judge can make a distinction between the two.
  3. Andy _ Kent

    Andy _ Kent Member

    Point well taken Pope, but then why did the judge phrase it in such a manner as to say those other comments "appear to be irrelevant?" Again, I think he might have just opened up a big can of worms because while the story he is talking about concerns an ongoing murder investigation, don't you think there will be gathering crowd of lawyers just itching to point out how these other comments could prejudice a jury or an investigation?
  4. PopeDirkBenedict

    PopeDirkBenedict Active Member

    But even if we say that these comments could taint the jury pool (a questionable assumption), on what grounds does that compel the identities of the commenters? A jury can be "tainted" in about a million different ways by a million different people and you can't shut down newspaper comment sections as a result. The judge was probably right that the comments appeared to be irrelevant in terms of proving who committed the murder.
  5. Andy _ Kent

    Andy _ Kent Member

    I would think it would fall under the domain of a defendant's rights to confront his or her accusers. That would not be too difficult a leap for a lawyer to make.
  6. PopeDirkBenedict

    PopeDirkBenedict Active Member

    Bob Beamon looks at that leap and says, "Shit, man. You're crazy."

    Confronting your accusers is about the fact that you get to rebut the evidence that is used against you in court. It is the basis of your right to cross-examine, your right to prevent hearsay, etc. You don't get to cross-examine an anonymous newspaper commenter who believes you are guilty unless the prosecution has somehow entered those comments into evidence. A lawyer might be able to use those comments to claim pretrial publicity mandates that a change in venue.
  7. Andy _ Kent

    Andy _ Kent Member

    That's what I was getting at but I hit "send" before I could make that point in terms of comments made against said defendant in a public forum that could impact the verdict that might be reached.
  8. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    I think you're absolutely right about the interpretation there.

    And in all honesty, the potential for either statement to be damaging or not is evident. "Groupies set up athletes" is a blanket statement that could or could not apply to Kobe Bryant. It certainly doesn't come from any stated informed place.

    However, saying "the rape victim told me she intended to set up Bryant" opens a Pandora's box. If it's wrong, it's potentially slanderous and defamation of character. If it's right, it's potentially evidence in a criminal trial.

    Frankly, this case is yet another example of why newspapers should not even countenance allowing anonymous comments posted to their stories online.
  9. J-School Blue

    J-School Blue Member

    This reasoning made me weep a little bit.

    ETA: At least it was ruled bullshit. But still. :'(
  10. Andy _ Kent

    Andy _ Kent Member

    Yeah J-School, I figured I'd let somebody else take on that part of the article. It made me shiver a bit, too.
  11. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    I don't think you could call a ruling by a county judge precedent setting. You have to reach the appellate level before that happens.
  12. Andy _ Kent

    Andy _ Kent Member

    Hence the term "possible precedent." It might be a lower level court but apparently it's the first ruling of its kind.
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