Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SJC: No Right to Audiotape Where Trial Transcript Available

Coat of Arms of Massachusetts. Official, adopt...
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A documentarian was not entitled to an audiotape of court proceedings where he was able to acquire an official trial transcript, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled yesterday in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Winfield (Docket No. 11288).

"Where an official record of the proceeding is available to the public," Justice Ralph Gants wrote, "a presumption of public access to an unofficial record is more likely to generate public confusion than to aid public understanding."

Filmmaker Steve Audette invoked the First Amendment and a common-law right of access to public courtroom records as he sought a copy of the court stenographer's backup audiotape of the proceedings in the trial of Somerville Police Officer Keith Winfield, who was convicted in 2007 of raping and burning an infant niece for whom he was babysitting. Audette's documentary will examine, among other issues, Winfield's continued assertion of his innocence.

As reported by the Universal Hub blog, the SJC ruled that the official trial transcript, a copy of which Audette purchased, and not the audio recording used to prepare the transcript, is the official judicial record.
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