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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Newspapers to Clear Defendants?

Two newspapers in Pennsylvania are asking a judge to overturn a decision forcing them to remove archived articles and information pertaining to two defendants whose public records were apparently cleared. While it is not unusual for attorneys to draw-up legal provisions for judges to consider, the newspapers say this sets a dangerous precedent potentially violating their freedom of speech/press. It should also be noted that both of the newspapers are student papers. So, how far should a cleared defendant's rights go when it pertains to expunging their records?

In the Digital Age, it is feasibly possible for potential employers, even neighbors and potential romantic partners, to pull-up all manner of information on someone with just a few clicks of the mouse and a name. This kind of information could certainly damage anyone cleared of a crime, but is that enough reason to force newspapers to remove archived articles and information pertaining to what amounts to public records?

While some of the cases' orders to remove stories were overturned, another judge scheduled a meeting with other officials before taking action. "We want to do what the statute requires," he told reporters. Legally, according to many experts, newspapers are not obligated to withdraw or change reported news if the reports were accurate at the time of reporting, meaning that -- when the stories were reported -- they were accurate, and therefore, legal.

But there is also the matter of newsworthiness. If you are unaware, the media has gotten a free ride on reporting celebrity gossip, because it is "newsworthy." One of the cases in question pertains to a woman who completed a probationary program stemming from two counts of child endangerment, while another regards a man charged with sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault (apparently amongst other charges), both of which were plead-down to two counts of indecent assault. Obviously, such charges could be potentially devastating, but does their severity constitute what basically amounts to an inability to ever clear themselves publicly of these crimes?

© C Harris Lynn, 2010

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