Newspapers, broadcasters file amicus briefs in public records case

The Tennessee Association of Broadcasters and the Tennessee Press Association have both filed amicus briefs in the public records case on appeal involving police files of the Vanderbilt rape case.

Representing broad swaths of media throughout the state, both make arguments that any exemption to the Tennessee Public Records Act created by the Rule of Criminal Procedure 16(a)(2) is limited to records not discoverable by the defense under the rule.

The rule governs what categories of police evidence the defense in a criminal trial is entitled to see, and what evidence they are not entitled to see.

But in the years following a 1987 Tennessee Supreme Court Decision, Appman v. Worthington, many law enforcement agencies in Tennessee have interpreted the rule to mean that all records in an open police investigation are confidential and can be withheld from the public.

In Appman v. Worthington, lawyers for a criminal defendant tried to circumvent Rule 16 by requesting state records under the Tennessee Public Records Act that they would not have been able to get under Rule 16 governing discovery in court. The Tennessee Supreme Court said they could not do this.

Rick Hollow, attorney for Tennessee Press Association, writes in the brief:

“In cases where courts have focused their decision upon the interaction of Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure and Tenn. Code Ann. 10-7-503, the holdings have been in accord with the interpretation of Appman urged by TPA, specifically that the only exception to open records created by the rules are those documents and things that would not be discoverable by a party under the rules of criminal procedure applicable to that litigation. All other matters in the litigation and contained in the files of the state are public records and subject to disclosure. The Court should, in the opinion of TPA, put to rest finally and completely the attempted mischaracterizations and overbroad interpretations of Appman being utilized on a consistent basis by records custodians, particularly law enforcement, as evidence by the opinions stated in this litigation.”

The brief filed by the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, written by Doug Pierce with King & Ballow, makes additional arguments related to confidentiality of crime victims as related to the Tennessee Public Record Act.

You can read both briefs in the case (The Tennessean, et al vs. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County), by following the links here:

Tennessee Press Association amicus brief 

Tennessee Association of Broadcasters amicus brief

 

 

 

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