“Don’t shoot me! (while I’m in handcuffs)”

8 06 2009

A couple of weeks ago, a defendent in Long Island, NY, actually had the nerve to ask a federal judge to bar the media from publishing photographs of him in handcuffs. The defendant, former legislatorRoger Corbin, was arrested on federal charges of tax evasion.

Among the things that Corbin asked for was an end to the “perp walk,” specifically:

(A) permanently enjoining, restraining, and stopping Newsday, News 12 and the United States Government from issuing press releases, mug shots or “perp walk” photos, videos or images of the defendant in handcuffs; and

(B) permanently enjoining the United States Government from conducting “perp walks” or issuing other information of the defendant aside from pedigree information and except as directed by the Court;

Needless to say, the motion to prevent perp walks, for either Corbin, or other defendants, was denied, as was the motion to stop publication of the images of Corbin in handcuffs. But as is the case with most rulings, the judge cannot just say “no.” He has to explain it.  The case goes through all of the motions of why, and for that reason it is interesting reading to anyone who wants to know the law behind perp walks or behind judicial restraint and the push-pull of fair trial vs. free press.

I thought it was interesting that the judge found the perp walk issue moot because it had already happened. Federal courts can only rule on “cases in controversy,” in other words, if there was about to be a perp walk, there would be a controversy, but since the time had passed, there was no “justiciable” issue. I was surprised by this ruling, even though the judge had good precedent. There are exceptions to this rule when the issue is something that will be repeated, and it ordinarily begins and ends before a case can reasonably be brought. This was the reasoning behind some desegregation cases, when the child had already graduated.

Also interesting to me, was that in Corbin’s efforts to stop the police from releasing information and photos to the media, the judge ruled that the media had rights because as the recipients to the information, their First Amendment rights were invoked. In other words, when it comes to restricting information, both the person communicating the information AND the recipient have first amendment rights. To quote a Supreme Court case, “W]here  [*29] a willing speaker exists, … the protection afforded is to the communication, to its source and its recipients both.” (case can be found at 425 U.S. 748). The fact that the recipient has as much right to recieve the communication as the speaker has to give it is not something that I was aware of. It is definitely useful.

The judge’s ruling on the motions can be found at United States v. Corbin, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46241 (E.D.N.Y. June 1, 2009).