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Thread: newspaper looses appeal over Earnhardt photos

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    FORT Fogey joeguy's Avatar
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    newspaper looses appeal over Earnhardt photos

    Newspaper loses appeal over Earnhardt photos
    By Gina Holland, The Associated Press December 1, 2003
    12:41 PM EST (1741 GMT)


    WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday from a student-run newspaper that wanted autopsy photos of race car driver Dale Earnhardt.

    The newspaper had challenged the constitutionality of a Florida law passed after Earnhardt's death, barring public access to autopsy pictures.

    Dale Earnhardt Credit: ASP

    Before the law, Florida had allowed the public to see the photographs for 90 years without any problems, attorney Thomas Julin told justices in a filing on behalf of the Independent Florida Alligator.

    He said the access was used to uncover medical examiners' negligence or criminal activities.

    The Alligator, an independent newspaper staffed by University of Florida students, sought the photos as questions arose over how the racer died and whether better safety equipment might have saved him.

    The seven-time Winston Cup champion died on Feb. 18, 2001, when his car hit the wall on the final turn at the Daytona 500. Doctors said he died instantly from head injuries.

    Lawyers for Earnhardt's widow, Teresa, said that the court's ruling against the newspaper did not involve federal constitutional issues and the Supreme Court should stay out of it.

    Under the newspaper's interpretation of free speech rights, the lawyers said, "the First Amendment ceases to be a bulwark of freedom, and instead turns it into a nuclear warhead used to eradicate the very freedom it was meant to protect."

    Supporters of the law, which has been copied in other states, say the measure protects families from seeing a relative's autopsy photos in newspapers or on the Internet. Under the law, unauthorized viewing or copying of photos can bring a $5,000 fine.

    The court is hearing arguments this week in a similar case, involving access to photos taken after the death of Clinton administration White House attorney Vincent Foster.

    The case is Campus Communications v. Earnhardt, 03-484.


    Yeah sure they want them just for an investigation, they would plaster them all over the paper just to make sales. So glad the High court has made the right decision. I for one, wouldn't like to see the photos. let the man die in piece instead of trying to get a piece of the money pie from his death.

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    Yeah sure they want them just for an investigation, they would plaster them all over the paper just to make sales. So glad the High court has made the right decision. I for one, wouldn't like to see the photos. let the man die in piece instead of trying to get a piece of the money pie from his death.
    Since copies of the Alligator are free I don't think it's about making sales.
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    look at the publicity that they've received, just from this lawsuit.
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    RESIDENT JEDI MASTER Stargazer's Avatar
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    So, are these student journalists also qualified medical examiners? Would they be able to make a judgement on what they see in an autopsy photograph? I see no reason for them to have access to the photographs. If they really wanted to challenge the results, they would have petitioned for an independent expert to have the opportunity to look over the records.
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    Back from the dead! brusch's Avatar
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    I am surprised there aren't stricter laws restricting autopsy photos. It is a state-by -state thing, if you've ever read an autopsy report that is enough to figure out what happened and many states release these (Florida included, you can read Earnhardt's). I certainly wouldn't want photos of anyone I care about released as the public gains little by seeing the photos. There is a site that had photos of some other NASCAR autopsies and seeing that is enough to make me realize the photos shouldn't be out there.
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    C'mon Without Cmon Within QuinntheEskimo's Avatar
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    i think these are law (pre-law) students moon-lighting as journalists to see how much they can get away with and test the the legal system in Florida? Something to pad their resumes when they head off to Law School.

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    The Orlando Sentinel was the paper that first sought the autopsy photos. The paper said from the beginning they did not intend to publish the photos. Instead, the Sentinel intended to show the photos to an expert medical examiner as part of their investigation into NASCAR safety.

    The Alligator didn't get involved until the Earnhardt law was fast-tracked through the Florida legislature to prevent the release of the photos. It seems like they were mainly interested in questioning the constitutionality of the statute, not the photos themselves. That's why the Alligator persisted in their appeal while The Sentinel reached a settlement where a court-appointed expert was allowed to see the photos and tell the Sentinel about them.

    According to NASCAR's preliminary investigation the Earnhardt's death was caused by a broken seatbelt. The court-appointed crash-expert said the seat belt did not fail.
    Tugboats and arson. That's all I ever get from you guys.

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