Judge Moves to Protect Private Conversations of Inmate
In a rare move by the judiciary, a Florida judge recently ordered a newspaper company to unpublish information the paper published related to one of their stories. The move is rare because of the nearly unfettered ability newspapers have to publish whatever they deem newsworthy. It is particularly rare when, as in this situation, the information is based on important public events.
The information Judge Jack Schramm Cox ordered unpublished involved private conversations that an inmate had with other inmates. The conversations were by a convicted murderer, Frederick Cobia, who has been branded as a jailhouse informant. The Palm Beach Post was running a story on the number of times and in which cases Cobia has testified in court as a witness for the prosecution. But the information was based largely on the private recorded conversations Cobia had while he was in jail.
In his ruling, Judge Cox noted his concern over how the information came to the newspaper. The conversations were not given to the public defender’s office through normal pretrial procedures, and as a result should be protected as the man’s private conversations. As a basis for his ruling, Judge Cox cited Florida’s Constitution and its right-to-privacy provisions in Article I, Section 23.
The judge’s order is being challenged by the Post based on their constitutional rights to free speech. While newspaper companies are not given any more freedoms by the Constitution than regular citizens, the First Amendment guarantees them the right to publish facts, figures, and basically any content without government intrusion. Any time the government seeks to regulate the content of speech, that regulation will receive heightened scrutiny by the courts.
Some commentators are speculating that the judge’s order in this case will be reversed by a higher court, and there is good reason for that speculation. It is very difficult for a government body to justify regulating the content of speech, whether it invades privacy or not. The private details of thousands of people are published every day in papers and websites across the country, and all of those stories are protected by the First Amendment.
Lesson on Inmate Conversations and Privacy
In addition to the lesson on the First Amendment, this story can also serve as an important reminder to anyone in jail about their conversations. If you ever find yourself in jail, be very careful about what you say and to whom you say anything. Remember that the jail is run by police officers, who are in league with prosecutors, who want to get a conviction in your case. Once you are arrested, you will likely be told that anything you say can be held against you in a court of law, and you should take that admonition to heart.
If You Think You Need a Lawyer, You Do. Call NOW!!
Please contact Attorney Tony Moss at the Tony Moss Firm, L.L.C. to discuss your criminal case, or any other legal predicament you find yourself in. He has offices located in Miami and Fort Lauderdale and is prepared to put his 27 years of experience to work for you.