Calif. appeals court overturns judge’s photo ban

Friday, August 20, 2010

LOS ANGELES — The California Court of Appeal has overturned a judge’s order barring the Los Angeles Times from publishing photos of a murder defendant, ruling her action was an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech.

Superior Court Judge Hilleri Merritt vacated her order after the appeals court ruled yesterday, which allows the paper to publish pictures of Alberd Tersargyan, who is accused of murdering a Hollywood family.

Merritt initially allowed photographer Al Seib to take photos, then barred the paper from running them because she thought they might interfere with the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court, however, ruled that Merritt had failed to prove that Tersargyan’s rights were jeopardized.

“Although the original order may have been issued to preserve the integrity of eyewitness identification, the record does not demonstrate it is substantially probable that either the integrity of the identifications or the defendant’s due process rights are at risk absent the prior restraint,” the appeals panel said in its unanimous opinion.

The panel added that “given the fact that the media has previously published photographs of the defendant in connection with the charges in this case, it is not probable that defendant’s right to a fair trial would be threatened by the publication of additional photographs.”

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