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Prosecutor and police raid JMU student newspaper

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by franticscribe, Apr 19, 2010.

  1. franticscribe

    franticscribe Well-Known Member

    I've been mad about this ever since I read about it on Friday. I hadn't seen it posted here yet, though, so sorry if it's a d_b and I missed it.

    Anyway, apparently a party near James Madison University got out of control a little over a week ago and turned into a riot. Skip to Thursday and the Rockingham County prosecutor asked the editor of the student newspaper, The Breeze, for unpublished photos the paper took of the party/riot. The editor said no, and Friday morning the prosecutor shows up with cops and a blatantly illegal search warrant.

    The student editors attempt to show her the section of the federal Privacy Protection Act which explicitly prohibits such a raid, and she ignores them, threatening to take all of their electronic equipment if they don't show the cops where the photos are kept. So the kids hand over 900+ unpublished photos, under protest, and are now fighting to get them back.

    Roanoke's coverage

    The Student Press Law Center (which has apparently helped The Breeze get some excellent attorneys) coverage

    Sorry about no link to the Harrisonburg paper, but they're behind a paywall.
  2. expendable

    expendable Well-Known Member

    Here's the response from the SPJ.

  3. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    If it were a real, grown-up newspaper, all those photos would have been posted on an online gallery and this unpleasantness could have been avoided.
  4. jfs1000

    jfs1000 Member

    Why is it illegal?

    I would imagine they would subpoena the information and then it would go to courts. If you have knowledge of a crime, I am not sure you can just refuse to hand over information after a court order.

    Now, a search warrant? That doesn't appear legal. What's the privacy act the protects student papers?
  5. franticscribe

    franticscribe Well-Known Member

    jfs, it's illegal because it is a clear violation of a federal law that prohibits it, a law that was passed in reaction to a Supreme Court finding that just such a raid at The Stanford Daily did not violate the First Amendment.

    The Privacy Protection Act of 1980 protects all newspapers, not just student newspapers, from government seizing work product:
    It then goes on to list the two exceptions -- when the police have probable cause to believe the journalist committed the crime or when there is reason to believe someone else is at risk of extreme bodily harm and the search is paramount to helping that person.

    It's not a complete bar to access. The prosecutor can get a subpoena, as you suggested, and the newspaper can have a chance to object. All it does is prevent these types of searches which are a serious infringement on the function of a free press.
  6. The difference is a subpoena can be contested in court. The police and commonwealth's attorney pulled an end run around the law and showed up in force like jackbooted thugs.
  7. DisembodiedOwlHead

    DisembodiedOwlHead Active Member

    "Let's get the campus paper to do our work for us!"
  8. Rhody31

    Rhody31 Well-Known Member

    Not to knock the paper's editor, but she could have done a much better job making sure the stuff didn't get found. If I got that request and then denied it, I'm taking the hard drive they're on and hiding that someplace far, far away.
    I'm willing to bet the cops said if they didn't turn the stuff over, she'd be arrested and she handed them right over. It's a tough situation to be in and the cops are totally 100 percent in the wrong, but you've got to stand up for yourself a little more than that.
  9. I'd like to know what pretenses the attorney used to get a judge to approve the subpoena.

  10. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    Can't blame the editor. The cops should be ashamed of themselves.

    I'm no lawyer, but if anyone gets arrested from those pics, I wonder if their attorney would be able to get that evidence thrown out of court on illegal search and seizure.
  11. SportsGuyBCK

    SportsGuyBCK Active Member

    Wasn't a subpoena ... it was a search warrant -- two different things ...

    For a subpoena, the paper would have had a chance to fight it in court, as well as know the reasons given to the judge to get it approved ...

    With the search warrant, the reasons given to the judge are under seal ...
  12. Sorry I misread the the bottom of the story -- where they said the offices couldn't be searched w/o a subpeona ....

    Still, wow.
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