Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Montana Daily Tries to Shield Itself from Subpoenas in Homicide Case

Flathead County Courthouse, Kalispell, MontanaImage by kendra e via Flickr
The Kalispell, Montana-based Daily Inter Lake newspaper has invoked the Media Confidentiality Act ("MCA"), the state's shield law [Mont. Code sec. 26-1-902(1)] in hopes of quashing subpoenas seeking the testimony of the publisher and two editors in a double-murder case.

As reported by the Web site of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (www.rcfp.org), the testimony of  Daily Inter Lake publisher Rick Weaver and managing editor Frank Miele was subpoenaed for a change in venue hearing desired by counsel for 17-year-old homicide defendant Justine Winter, who is accused of killing a mother and son when her vehicle purportedly crossed the center line of a Montana highway. Miele allegedly is a neighbor of the victims.

Warren's attorney alleges that online comments connected to the Daily Inter Lake's coverage of the tragedy has prejudiced the jury pool. Although the daily is fighting the subpoenas, it willingly provided the defense with the contact information for seven online commenters  who gave testimony in the hearing that seeks relocation of the trial. Montana's shield law does not protect the identity of online commenters.

Under the MCA, anyone "connected with or employed by [a news organization] for the purpose of gathering, writing, editing or dissminating news" cannot be compelled to identify the source of information obtained or prepared during the newsgathering process.
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